HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS (NEW JERSEY BUREAU) – The FIBA Americas Championship 2011 is now over for six of the 10 teams that played in Mar del Plata, Argentina. But there’s still much to be determined over the weekend.
There was much up in the air on Thursday, too, even though the top four teams clinched semifinal berths two days earlier. Each of Thursday’s four games had meaning at the time they were played. Now that they’re over, we know who will be playing whom in Saturday’s semifinals and that Venezuela is heading to the Olympic qualifying tournament next July.
Trending up: Brazil (7-1)
Trending down: Puerto Rico (6-2)
Panama 91, Canada 89 (Box Score)
Canada entered this game with a shot at fifth place and a spot in next year’s qualifying tournament. Given that Panama’s only win came in the final seconds against Paraguay, this looked like an easy win for Canada. But without the injured Joel Anthony, Canada’s defense took a step backward, Gary Forbes went off and the Canadians’ Olympic hopes were doused.
At times, Forbes was basically playing one-on-five, but he scored a tournament-high 39 points on 12-for-20 from the field. Eighteen of his 39 came in the fourth quarter, including a personal 5-0 run that decided the game after Canada tied it with a minute and a half left.
After the game, Leo Rautins stepped down as Canada’s coach. There’s a lot of talent in the Canadian pipeline, but they’ll need a good coach and system to make the most of it in the coming years.
Venezuela 92, Uruguay 80 (Box Score)
Canada’s loss kept Uruguay alive for fifth place. But Venezuela slowly took control of this one in the third quarter and held on to clinch a spot in next year’s qualifying tournament.
Greivis Vasquez scored 18 points for Venezuela and got plenty of help. Hector Romero led all scorers with 23 points, continuing his pattern of having a big game every other time out. Oscar Torres and David Cubillan combined for 34 points on 14-for-23 from the field.
The fifth-place finish and berth in next year’s tourney are a step forward for Venezuelan basketball. Coach Eric Musselman deserves a lot of credit for putting together a ridiculously efficient offense.
Argentina 84, Dominican Republic 58 (Box Score)
Argentina recovered from their off night against Brazil to wrap up a top-two seed in the semifinals (not that seeds matter). Their three NBA players — Luis Scola (25 points), Manu Ginobili (17) and Carlos Delfino (16) — led the way, combining for 58 points.
Al Horford and Francisco Garcia combined for 28 points on 13-for-23 shooting for the Dominican Republic, but they didn’t have any help.
Andres Nocioni, who sprained his ankle on the opening tip of Argentina’s loss on Wednesday, did not play. His status for Saturday’s semifinal is questionable, and he wrote in his ESPN Deportes blog, “Voy a hacer todo lo posible por jugar, pero solamente estaré a disposición si puedo ayudar.” Translated, that means “I’m going to do everything possible to play, but only if I feel I can help.”
Brazil 94, Puerto Rico 72 (Box Score)
Though their spots in the semifinals were plenty secure, each team had a reason to win this game. Puerto Rico should have had a bigger incentive, as a win would have allowed them to avoid Argentina in the semifinals.
But Brazil owned this game from the start and nearly doubled Puerto Rico up in the first quarter, outscoring them 29-15. They shot 58 percent from the fiel, including 15-for-25 from 3-point range. Marcus Vinicius led them with 18 points, hitting four of his six threes.
With the win, Brazil finished pool play with a 6-1 record against the teams that weren’t eliminated in the first round. Argentina also finished 6-1, but since Brazil won the head-to-head matchup on Wednesday, they take the top seed in the semifinals and will face the Dominican Republic (4-3, fourth seed) on Saturday.
With the loss, Puerto Rico is the third seed at 5-2 and will have to play Argentina on Saturday. The winners of the two semifinal games will be in the Olympics next summer and the losers will join Venezuela in the 12-team qualifying tournament, where the top three finishers will qualify for the Olympics.
Argentina and Brazil will be the clear favorites on Saturday, but both games are rematches of great first-round games that took place last Friday. The Dominican Republic beat Brazil last week and Puerto Rico had a five-point lead early in the second half against Argentina. So both semifinals, with Olympic berths on the line, will be well worth watching.