RIO DE JANEIRO — In the Men’s Basketball competition at the Olympics, Group B is the tougher group, with five good teams, one that won’t make the quarterfinals. And the group’s depth and quality was on display in its first day of action, as Croatia upset Spain, 72-70 on Sunday night.
Incoming Sixers rookie Dario Saric, who had a quiet night statistically (five points, seven rebounds, five assists, 1-for-7 shooting), sealed the game by blocking a short jump hook from the Spurs’ Pau Gasol at the buzzer.
“It’s a gift for the whole team,” Saric said of the final play. “That block was like cherry on the cake, because the team fought all the time.”
Spain led by as many as 10 points late in the first quarter and by as many as 13 early in the third. But twice, Croatia was able to chip away at the lead when Gasol went to the bench, a symptom of the absences of bigs Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka.
The Nets’ Bojan Bogdanovic hit two huge shots in the last five minutes and led Croatia with 23 points. Gasol led all scorers with 26 points on 8-for-13 shooting, but fouled Bogdanovic on a 3-pointer on a critical play late.
The Wolves’ Ricky Rubio was on the bench for most of the fourth quarter, as the Sixers’ Sergio Rodriguez and Rockets’ draft-stash Sergio Llull finished the game in the backcourt. But both of those guys had costly turnovers down the stretch, with Rodriguez also missing two important 3-point attempts when Gasol was double-teamed in the post.
Spain has lost early in big tournaments before. In the 2012 Olympics, it lost to both Russia and Brazil in pool play before recovering to scare the U.S. in the gold medal game. And in last year’s Eurobasket, Spain lost its first game to Serbia and its third game to Italy before going on to win the tournament.
“This year, hopefully, it’s going to be the same,” the Bulls’ Nikola Mirotic said after scoring 19 points in the loss. “We started [last year with a loss], but most important is how you finish. I trust in this team and I know that we’re going to play much better next game.”
Lithuania survives vs. Brazil
The first game of the day was almost as much of a thriller, though it looked nothing like one early on. Lithuania led by 29 at halftime and by as many as 30 midway through the third, but Brazil cut the lead to 18 by the end of the period and was within four with just over two minutes to go.
The home crowd was loud, chanting “We believe!” in Portuguese. But incoming Thunder rookie Domantas Sabonis sealed the win for Lithuania with a tough, reverse and-one off a pick-and-roll feed from Renaldas Seibutis. Sabonis finished with 10 points on 4-for-8 shooting, while incoming Knicks rookie Mindaugas Kuzminskas added eight points and five rebounds in Lithuania’s 82-76 win.
Jonas Valanciunas (six points, three boards) had a pretty quiet afternoon, but it was a team effort as Lithuania shot 21-for-29 (6-for-9 from 3-point range) in the first half. Brazil’s starting backcourt of Marcelo Huertas (Lakers) and Alex Garcia couldn’t keep Lithuania out of the paint and played a total of 23 seconds (all from Garcia) in the second half.
With Group B so competitive, the first day of action was huge for Croatia and tough for the hosts. If things hold to form, the final spot in the quarterfinals could come down to a game between rivals Argentina and Brazil, who play on Saturday. But with what happened on Sunday, it’s probably best not to look too far ahead.
Argentina takes care of business
In Sunday’s final game, Argentina handled its business against Nigeria, Group B’s weakest team. Luis Scola and Manu Ginobili combined to score the game’s first nine points and Argentina led by as many as 29 on its way to a 94-66 victory.
Facundo Campazzo led five Argentina players in double-figures with 19 points. Incoming Spurs rookie Patricio Garino had 15 points on just six shots, adding six rebounds.