ISTANBUL — The round of 16 concluded with the best game of the 2010 World Championship thus far. From start to finish, this was a beautiful display of basketball, and it’s a shame that one of these two teams had to go home early.
That team is Brazil, with Argentina advancing to the quarterfinals with a 93-89 victory on Tuesday night. Both of these teams executed brilliantly in a win-or-go-home situation, and in the end, Argentina had Luis Scola, and Brazil did not.
Scola has clearly been the MVP of this tournament thus far, and apparently his 29-point average in pool play was just an appetizer for the medal rounds. He dropped 37 on Brazil, to go along with nine rebounds, three assists and two steals.
One of Scola’s biggest shots of the game was a post-up, fadeaway turnaround over Anderson Varejao, but we really didn’t see much of Scola in the post in this game. In fact, when he did post up earlier in the night, he turned the ball over a couple of times.
Most of his production came off pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop action with point guard Pablo Prigioni. But he also had a gorgeous running bank shot off a slip-and-dish from Carlos Delfino. Then there was a great weak-side cut down the middle of the lane off a Prigioni-Fabricio Oberto pick-and-roll.
The biggest bucket of the night was a pick-and-pop 18-footer that gave Argentina a five-point lead with 24 seconds to go. Brazil never got a chance to tie or take the lead after that.
On the other end of the floor, Brazilian point guard Marcelo Huertas was almost as brilliant as Scola. Huertas wasn’t dishing out assists like he did in the first half against the U.S. last week, but rather was getting to the rim off high screen-and-rolls. He also hit a few pull-up threes when the Argentine defenders backed off, finishing with 32 points on 10-for-16 shooting.
It was a ridiculously efficient game overall, with the two teams combining to shoot 56 percent from the field and score 182 points on 131 possessions, which translates to 139 points per 100. As a reference, the overall efficiency of the tournament before Tuesday’s games was about 105 points per 100 possessions.
So Argentina will play Lithuania on Thursday, with the winner playing the winner of the USA-Russia game in the semifinals. Argentina and the U.S. are both strong favorites to win those games, of course. And there’s no doubt that, with the Americans lacking interior defense, Scola and crew would definitely be a serious threat to knock them off.
- Leandro Barbosa loves the long ball. Nine of his 14 shots in this game were from 3-point range, and he kept Brazil in it at times by hitting five of those nine. But Barbosa picked up his third foul on a charge with 2:18 left to go in the second quarter, and he didn’t return until there was 1:07 left in the third.
- I imagine that with his two big performances in this tournament (last Monday against the U.S. and tonight against Argentina), Huertas opened the eyes of some decision-makers around the NBA. He helped Caja Laboral to the ACB (Spanish league) title last season and, according to my new friend PlanetGornik, the 27 year old Huertas is under contract for two more years.
- I’ve written this before, but it’s amazing how much better of a player Carlos Delfino is with his national team. With Manu Ginobili resting this summer, Delfino is his team’s only real perimeter scorer. And when he’s playing well, Delfino (a 40 percent shooter from 3-point range over his five NBA seasons) can really take advantage of the shorter arc. He was 4-for-7 from downtown on Tuesday.
- It was interesting to see Argentina coach Sergio Hernandez make offense-defense substitutions at point guard throughout the first half, bringing in Luis Cequeira for Prigioni if there was a dead ball before a defensive possessions. Cequeria was a bit of a pest for Huertas, but his aggressiveness got him in trouble at times. It allowed the Brazilian bigs to screen him easily, and he gave Brazil a few free points by fouling on the perimeter in bonus situations.