Spain get the better of Serbia’s nerves to advance

For all the talk regarding Serbia providing a stern test to Spain, and all the European champions needed was four minutes.

Spain defeated Serbia 90-60 in the first quarter-final of Eurobasket 2013 as they led from tip to buzzer en route to a comfortable win.

Sergio Rodriguez had 22 points to lead the current Eurobasket holders as they ran riot in the first ten minutes, leading 21-5, restricting Serbia to just one field goal in the entire first period of play.

“I think today we played the best game now in the tournament,” Spain coach Juan Orenga said.

“I always said that our goal is going up in the tournament, we prepared for a very tough game. We knew that the key was stop [Nenad] Krstic; stop [Nejmanja] Bjelica, stop [Bogdan] Bogdanovic and all my players’ defence was very hard.

“We know our strengths that we had as a team and we played together and we were a group and we fought for the same thing.”

The main focus of Spain’s defensive plan was to shut down Serbia’s free-scoring Nenad Krstic, who had been averaging 15 points a game. The plan worked. The CSKA Moscow forward was beaten into submission, held to just four points, with just the lone field goal; a top of the key jumper in the second quarter to show for his efforts.

Today’s win though was about Rodriguez, and his influence on proceedings.

“He is very good point guard, but he’s a very good scorer,” Orenga said of Rodriguez’s showing. “He’s very straight to the basket, he can shoot, he can shoot from outside and he can pass. It’s difficult to play defence on him, he’s in such good shape like he is now.”

Danilo Andjusic and Rasko Katic led the young Serbians with 11 points each, a lesson learned for the young team though. Clearly fazed by the occasion, and the opponents. They shot 38 percent from the field compared to Spain’s 49 and were 14/21 from the foul line.

“I think that absolutely the Spanish team deserved this victory,” said Serbia coach Dusan Ivkovic. “The Spanish team was much, much better team tonight. It was the first elimination game for my team but in my preparation with my players, I said, and speaking with a tennis language it was our first match ball that our target was qualification. But the team wasn’t well prepared. I take responsibility for that reason.”

Spain were the aggressors from the early going, taking full advantage of the young and clearly nervous Serbians. A Marc Gasol hook followed by back-to-back three-pointers from Jose Calderon and Rudy Fernandez gave the Eurobasket holders an early 8-0 lead.

A simple steal from Ricky Rubio led to a dunk in transition by Victor Claver, forced Ivkovic’s hand as he called his troops in for a talk.

Unfortunately though it had no effect. Spain, led by Fernandez were relentless – punishing a shaky Serbian five with crisp passing, a dominant inside presence and accurate shooting when left open.

Another three from Fernandez with 42 seconds left in the first quarter gave Spain a 21-5 first quarter advantage as their true style of basketball, one that had been previously seen in doses of the second round was on full show. For Fernandez, who scored 11 points at the end of the first, would end with 19 for Spain.

Andjusic hit from outside to begin the second quarter, briefly lifting the vocal Serbian support but then Rodriguez entered the Spanish show to silence them once more. He replied on the next possession with a three of his own on the wing then forced Ivkokic into another timeout when the Real Madrid guard hit four more points in quick succession to give Spain a 30-14 lead.

It took Krstic until the ninth minute of the second quarter to register his name amongst the scorers. He connected again with a jumper at the top of the key, but Spain were comfortable – clearly used to these levels of competition – while the Serbians were on the ropes; down 48-23 at the half.

A 7-0 start by the Eurobasket holders, all scored by Claver gave Spain a further 55-23 lead before a three from Llull extended the lead further. It took Serbia until 5:30 left in the third to register a point; this came from the foul line, courtesy of Gagic.

The Spaniards were on cruise control for the remainder of the third, Katic gave Serbia a lift, but they were still 34 points away from matching Spain after three quarters.  The dominant Spain that was due to arrive in Slovenia had arrived in devastating fashion.

Rodriguez toyed with Serbia during the fourth, he showed off an array of ball-handling skills and flashing passes en route to going to the bench with 2:41 remaining, aware that the job was done.

“We’ve been in this situation before, but for us I think when everything goes wrong, this team always came up stronger,” Spain’s Jose Calderon said. “We didn’t play a great tournament in the first round, didn’t play great in the second round but we knew this was like a final for us. We talked yesterday, we prepared really well. We knew what we had to do, we needed to step up and play great basketball.”

Photo courtesy of FIBA Europe