GRANADA, SPAIN — If there were any doubts that Spain is a legitimate threat to the U.S. National Team at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, the Spaniards erased them Monday night with a sound 82-63 beating of previously unbeaten Brazil in Group A play.
Brazil ranked as a top-three defense (behind only Spain and the U.S.) through the first days of World Cup action. But the tournament hosts torched them in the first quarter, scoring 30 points on just 17 possessions, with Pau Gasol (12 in the period) looking clearly like the best of the seven NBA big men in the matchup.
He wasn’t the only 34-year-old Spanish star to turn the clock back, as Juan Carlos Navarro scored seven of his team’s first 15 points. Marc Gasol and Rudy Fernandez also got in the early action, with Ricky Rubio running the show. Spain built a comfortable lead before they had even unleashed Serge Ibaka and Jose Calderon off the bench.
“You can’t just guard one guy,” Brazil’s Anderson Varejao said afterward. “The way they move the ball, it’s hard. It’s tough to guard them.”
Brazil was able to settle down and get some stops in the second quarter, but could never really make the game interesting. Pau Gasol started raining jumpers in the third quarter, hitting three 3s and a long two as Spain built a 21-point lead.
They cruised from there. After two easy wins over Iran and Egypt, it was clear they were determined to separate themselves from the other good teams in Group A.
“Everybody who stepped on the court played great tonight,” Calderon said. “This was important for us.”
And the elder Gasol seems determined to lead his team to gold on its home turf. He looks healthy and spry and his game looks complete. He finished with 26 points, nine rebounds and three impressive blocks on Monday, at one point meeting Nene at the rim and turning him away.
Spain has games against France (Wednesday) and Serbia (Thursday) remaining, but may have just faced the toughest team they’ll see before a matchup with the U.S.
This wasn’t just a preview of the talent and depth that the U.S. might eventually face in the gold medal game. The crowd also provided an indication of how loud and intense the atmosphere might be. They will certainly turn it up a notch with a stronger opponent in the building.
Given their home-court advantage and superior chemistry (from having played as a team much more often), it’s fair to call Spain the tournament favorites over the team that hasn’t lost since 2006. Monday’s game was Exhibit A.
“If they play each other,” Brazil coach Ruben Magnano said through a translator, “it would be a really interesting game.”
More notes from Spain 82, Brazil 63…
- Brazil has an NBA frontline and a fantastic point guard in Marcelo Huertas. But they’re still not a great offensive team. Tiago Splitter and Varejao are terrific role players in the NBA, but they’re not going to scare many defenses when they’re posting up early and often. And Nene just seems to be a better NBA player than FIBA player, the anti-Luis Scola if you will.
- Leandro Barbosa was the only Brazilian to really get going offensively. He scored 11 points on 5-for-7 shooting. Huertas was also able to find some holes in the Spanish defense, but the Brazil bigs were neutralized and the team could never get much going offensively.
- Sergio Rodriguez has improved as a shooter and scorer since he last played in the NBA in 2010. The 2013-14 Euroleague MVP is another weapon that Spain brings off the bench and tallied 12 points on 4-for-6 shooting on Monday.
Other games of note…
Group B: Senegal 77, Croatia 75
Group B continues to be the most entertaining of the four, with just one undefeated team left after Senegal’s two-point victory over Croatia on Monday.
Behind 17 first-half points from Gorgui Dieng, Senegal (2-1) had a nine-point lead at the break. Croatia (2-1) worked its way back, but missed five 3-pointers that would have tied the game or given them the lead in the final five minutes.
Senegal hit its free throws down the stretch for its second straight win. This is a team that qualified for this tournament with a four-point play in the final seconds of the third place games of last year’s Afrobasket. And now they’re almost assuredly going to qualify for the knockout rounds of the World Cup.
- When we talk about the long-term potential of young Timberwolves like Ricky Rubio, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Anthony Bennett, we have to include the 24-year-old Dieng in the conversation. He’s not just long and athletic, but also a very smart and willing passer out of the high post. This is a guy who averaged 12.2 points and 12.0 rebounds in 15 starts as a rookie and is now putting up huge and efficient numbers (22.0 points, 11.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals, 1.7 blocks, 54 percent shooting) at the World Cup.
- Dario Saric continues to display ridiculous talent. He racked up 15 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals on Monday. And with an off day on Tuesday, he gets to visit the dentist to replace those six teeth he lost to Andres Nocioni‘s elbow.
- Bojan Bogdanovic also scored 15 points for Croatia, but shot 5-for-14 (1-for-7 from 3-point range), missing two threes that could have tied the game in the final two minutes.
Group B: Argentina 85, Philippines 81
The Philippines (0-3) continues to play strong against very good teams, but just can’t pick up a victory. Argentina (2-1) trailed early, but built a 15-point lead late in the third quarter. Then the Philippines came all the way back to within one with two minutes to go.
But Andray Blatche missed a 3 to take the lead, Argentina got a couple of huge offensive rebounds, and Jayson William traveled with a chance to tie or take the lead in the final seconds, allowing Argentina to escape with the win.
More Day 3 notes
- Evan Fournier missed his first seven shots of the World Cup and is still 0-for-7 from 3-point range, but he got off the schneid with a wide-open jumper late in the first half of France’s 94-55 win over Egypt and finished with nine points and four assists, with the blowout allowing him to find a little bit of a rhythm as his team’s fifth guard.
- Missing Carlos Arroyo, Puerto Rico fell to 0-3 with a 90-79 loss to Greece, with Giannis Antetokounmpo scoring 15 points on 5-for-11 shooting. Greece and Spain are the first two teams to clinch berths in the round of 16.
Big games on tap for Tuesday
Groups A (Granada) and B (Sevilla) take the day off, while Groups C (Bilbao) and D (Gran Canaria) get back to business.
- Angola-Mexico (7:30 a.m. ET) is likely for fourth place in Group D and a trip to Barcelona for the round of 16. Angola (1-1) has a win over Korea, who Mexico (0-2) has yet to play.
- There are four teams with 1-1 records in Group C. One of them isn’t going to finish in the top four, and they all play each other on Tuesday. So both Ukraine-Turkey (9 a.m. ET) and Finland-Dominican Republic (3:30 p.m. ET) will be important.
- Australia-Lithuania (11:30 a.m. ET) should be the highest quality game of the day.