Friday, September 01, 2006

2006 FIBA Worlds-Spain 75, Argentina 74

- Sorry if I gave the impression that this game was going to be a classic. You would not think a one-point game between these two squads who be a letdown, but it certainly was in my opinion. Quite an anti-climatic contest after the excitement of the previous game, and this game was suppose to be the one for the ages. The rough play ruined any type of rhythm that could possibly be squeezed out of this defensive clash.

And what was Arg. Coach Hernandez thinking with putting Calderon on the line with the score tied? I saw a similar strategy in the Germany-Angola game where both teams did it back2back & it perplexed me then & it certainly perplexed me in this game. Spain was without Gasol, make them prove they can score, don't give them freebies from 15 feet.

This game resembled a mid-90s Eastern Conf. playoff battle, maybe something in line with the Knicks being involved. Just an ugly affair in every way, especially the foul-plagued 3rd. It was physical, very physical. It was obvious to me that both teams knew each other's playbook inside & out. You anticipated a game that would showcase two of the top int'l teams and their aesthetically pleasing offenses, but each defense totally dictated the style of play.

Argentina started the game off red hot and were drilling their outside shots, but Spain readjusted their defense and began to reign in the Argentines. Argentina's classic ball movement was almost totally shutdown by Spain--Arg. only had 11 assists after averaging 20 per. Argentina decided to rely too much on one-on-one play, especially Manu.

Even though Manu's numbers were good--21 pts, 4 rebs, 4assts, & 3 steals--I thought he forced a ton of bad shots & plays in one-on-one situations; he was just out of control alot on offense. Andres Nocioni started off the game strong with some hot outside shooting but cooled off as the game went on & Spain made his looks more difficult (Andres had 15 on 4/12 overall).

Pepe Sanchez made some huge 3pt. shots (3/4) and kept up his surprising performance from the 3pt. line for the tourney--11/17 from deep. But a glaring fact that stood out was he only had one assist after averaging 6.5 per; this was a microcosm of how well Spain shut down Argentina's offense. Argentina could not get much from their bench corps who had fared so well so far. Luis Scola was also kept in check and did not control the paint as he has done previously in the Worlds (Luis had 8 & 8 rebs).

Spain's offense was not much prettier. But they did do a good job getting to the foul line. Pau definitely got good looks in the post & was a presence on both ends. He clogged the middle on defense much like Darko did, and really helped screw up Argentina's offensive flow & also was a deterrent when Argentina decided to drive the ball. Pau had 19, 11, & 3 blks on 7/10.

Spain got a huge boost from their nubile guards, Portland draftee Sergio "Spanish Chocolate" Rodriguez & 1st round prospect Rudy Fernandez. Both guys sparked the Spainish squad with instant energy & Sergio shot the ball surprisingly well (3/3 from 3pt. for 14 pts.). I thought those two young guys outplayed their veteran counterparts, Calderon & Navarro.

Can't forget about the ultimate glue guy, Jorge Garbajosa. I know I am repeating myself, but he just thrives doing all the little things every game. Jorge hit some jumpers 3/7 from 3pt, played great defense & did his usual clever job of drawing fouls (8/9 fts) which led to 19 pts overall.

Both teams' defenses were excellent, but I thought Spain's was just a little better--it was nearly flawless (Arg shot 35.8% overall & could only muster 11 assts). They were extremely aggressive and they help & recover as well as any team. They were superb. I have been impressed with their defense for the whole tourney, and they have been one of the best int'l defensive teams for the last few years. But this game might have been their finest hour defensively.

Gasol's injury definitely puts a damper on the Gold medal game, but don't forget Spain played very well last year without Pau -- getting all the way to the Euro semis, where they lost on a last second Dirk jumper. So, Spain has proven themselves very capable without the services of Pau before.

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