Russia Rallies (Twice) to Upend Spain
RUSSIA 77, SPAIN 74
Russia continued their strong Olympic play by upsetting Spain and clinching the Group B crown. Would call this a mild upset as Spain is dealing with Juan Navarro's injury and they seem to be in their preliminary round sleepwalk-mode that has plagued them since Sergio Scariolo has taken over.
Not to say Russia is not close to Spain's level--we picked Russia to fight with Brazil for the bronze. Like they've done nearly every year under David Blatt, Russia is showing that a team without a dominant natural scorer can make up it with great execution on offense and defense.
Give Russia tons of credit, not only did they overcome a hot start by Spain and a 18-point deficit, but they also recovered when Spain took back the lead in the 4th.
Russia took the lead late in the 3rd, but Spain regained the lead a few minutes later early in the 4th. After a strong middle portion of the game, Russia couldn't get anything to fall early in the 4th. Russia only managed four points through the first six minutes of 4th and Spain held a 69-60 lead with 4:40 remaining.
At that point you felt no way was Spain going to give up the lead again. But Russia regained their composure and outscored Spain 17-5 over the last four minutes of the game.
Spain looked like they were headed for an easy victory when they got out to 20-2 lead. Pau was particularly sharp early and Spain was getting out in transition. Russia was helping Spain by turning the ball over six times in the opening quarter.
Russia's defense tighten after the 1st and David Blatt did his usual masterful job of mixing up his looks. Russia's matchup zone gave Spain some issues, like it gives every team issues. Russia started to swarm the ball when it got into the post or near the basket. Plus, Russia only had four TOs after the 1st quarter.
What was somewhat impressive, Russia was able to pull the upset without a ton of offensive input from Kirilenko and Alexey Shved.
Alexey Shved (0 pts, 0 assts, 2 TOs) didn't have it working early, making careless plays. Blatt wasted no time and sat Shved for most of the game. This is what you like about Blatt--never shy about possibly alienating his main guys.
Russia was fortunate that Anton Ponkrashov (14 pts, 11 assts) was able to step in Shved's place. Ponkrashov is not known for his scoring ability, but on Saturday he had the best game of national team career. He was seemingly unstoppable drilling pull-up jumpers all game including one where he crossed up Pau that cut the lead to one with 1:40 left
Ponkrashov is known for his passing ability and he threaded a few sweet dished today. Made a shovel pass to Mozgov, who was sneaking baseline from the opposite side, for a dunk over Pau. Also fed Mozgov for the game-winner with a bullet-pass.
Russia loves to bring sharpshooter Vitaly Fridzon (24 pts, 3 assts) off of down screens and Fridzon hurt Spain on screen action today. Fridzon is a dangerous catch-n-shoot threat but vs. Spain, Fridzon did more damage off the dribble either knocking down a variety of jumpers or creating some easy looks for his teammates. Fridzon has been doing a good job finding his teammates in the Olympics, an added bonus for Russia.
Timo Mozgov (12 pts, 9 rebs, 2 blks) had another solid effort for Russia and was a factor on both ends of the floor. Moz hurt Spain rolling/cutting and his dunk of a slip cut gave the Russia the lead for good with 18 seconds left. He bodied up the Gasols on the block admirably and changed multiple shots, including a huge block on a rolling Marc with 3:30 left.
Andrei Kirilenko had somewhat of a quiet game and only had eight points with both field goals coming on put-backs (four off. rebs). Kirilenko drew fouls and was a factor for Russia has their designated rover.
Like Kirilenko, Vik Khryapa (12 pts, 5 rebs) didn't have his usual sharp all-around game and his normally sharp entry passing was off the mark. But Vik's jumpshooting came up big for Russia, particularly in the 2nd half. All of Khryapa's 12 points came on 2nd half 3pt. shots. Vik knocked down three in the 3rd and buried an "ONIONS!"-worthy jumper isolated on Pau that tied the game at 73 with a minute remaining.
Russia's Princeton-tinged sets gave Spain's defense some issues. We mentioned before that Russia often keeps the basket area clear and Russia hurt them with cutting a few times, including two crucial times late in the game. Fridzon made a nice read and drew a foul shots off a backdoor cut with 2:15 remaining. Some of Khyrapa's jumpers came from Spain getting messed by Russia's movement in these type of sets.
On the Mozgov's game-winning dunk, Russia had the painted area clear and Fridzon tried to cut backdoor earlier in the possession. Spain was prepared for the back cut but they got confused later in the possession when Russian dribble handoff action up high confused Spain. Khryapa handed off to Ponkrashov while Mozgov was attempting to screen for Khryapa. This bunched up three Spain defenders up high and Mozgov made the right read and slipped a cut into a wide-open paint for a dunk.
Pau Gasol (20 pts, 5 rebs, 2 blks) was the one Spaniard who was consistent throughout the game. Pau banged home mid-range jumpers all over the floor (many pop jumpers) and made a few fluid moves out of the post.
Thought Marc Gasol's play (10 pts, 9 rebs, 4 TOs) was sloppy and just plain lackadaisical. Not really sure why he felt the need to throw up multiple off-balanced/forced shots vs. Russia. He also fell asleep on the backline a few times getting beat to spots.
Russia also picked the right day to improve their 3pt. shooting--shot 39%. We pointed out previously that Russia is a mediocre outside shooting team over the last few years and they were only shooting 30% on 3PA coming into the Spain game.
Russia was also unusually proficient at the FT line--10-for-11. FT shooting is another perennially sorespot for Russia
Russia plays Australia on Monday in a game that's meaningless since both teams are locked into their seed (Russia B-1, Aust. B-4). Spain will meet Brazil on Monday (8 pm London-time)to determine 2nd-place in Group B.
It will be interesting to see how both teams approach this game as it might be better to get the 3-seed in Group B thus assuring you avoid Team USA until the finals.
Can remember when France played Greece in the Euro '09 prelims and both teams were in obvious tank mode so to try to avoid Spain in the quarterfinals. France won the game on a Nando De Colo buzzer-beater (that no one celebrated) and then France got trounced in quarters by Spain.