After an unconvincing start to group play, the Spanish men’s national basketball team has now found its groove, and their 92-67 win over France in the quarterfinals was their fourth straight win and puts them within one win of a medal. In this story, Ricky Rubio is playing the role of Las Vegas Tyus Jones, and will clearly be named MVP of the tournament regardless of Spain’s loss in the final.
...Okay, probably not, but you get my point. Early losses to Brazil and Croatia had the Spanish camp in a bad place, and Rubio’s performances in both games were lackluster, struggling with foul trouble and the usual question marks over his shooting. However, he’s come into a more comfortable pattern of play, and his contribution to Spain’s stifling defense of France (who only had 30 points at the half to Spain’s 43) should be noted.
Spain now get the challenge of facing the presumptive gold medal favorites, the United States themselves. The Timberwolves’ connection to that team also has some question marks floating over it, given the widely-noted pathetic defense that the USA has played for most of the tournament, even with Tom Thibodeau’s rage awaiting them during stoppage of play. The USA eventually ran away with their 105-78 quarterfinal win over Argentina, but it took actual defense to create separation.
A Spanish win on Friday afternoon would be a pretty huge surprise, but it’s not impossible. The USA’s weaknesses have been exposed by smart ball movement and good passing, and while Rubio hasn’t been the center of the Spanish offense by any stretch, he and the other Spanish guards can take advantage of that. Defense may be a bigger problem, given having to stop, oh, Kevin Durant, Demarcus Cousins, Carmelo Anthony and more, but if Spain can frustrate the USA, don’t rule it out.
The day of quarterfinals also marked the end of two notable San Antonio Spurs’ international careers: Argentina’s loss ended Manu Ginobili’s time with the national team, as did France’s loss for Tony Parker. They’ll be back in San Antonio this fall, but with Tim Duncan’s retirement, the complete changing of the guard for the Spurs feels like it’s getting closer and closer.
The semifinals are Friday afternoon: Spain-USA at 1:30pm, Australia-Serbia at 5:00pm. Australia, who have looked like the second best team in this tournament, crushed Lithuania 90-64, while Serbia won the Battle of Bogdanovic over Croatia, 86-83, complete with a ferocious dunk by former Timberwolf Miroslav Raduljica over noted not-yet-NBA-player Dario Saric.
While both Serbia and Spain could push their respective opponents, I’d love to see an Australia-USA rematch for the gold on Sunday. Either the Aussies will push the USA hard again, or the USA will remember just how much better they should be than every other team at this tournament. It should be a solid final four games to an interesting tournament in Rio, and will have to do for a basketball fix for another few weeks.