RIO DE JANEIRO — Spain, the nation that has won the last two silver medals at the Olympics and three of the last four European championships, is now 0-2 in Rio.
For the second straight game, Spain went down to the wire with its opponent and couldn’t get the bucket it needed to tie or win the game. On Sunday, Pau Gasol was blocked by Croatia’s Dario Saric at the buzzer. On Tuesday, Sergio Llull‘s wild runner was well short. The difference in Brazil’s 66-65 victory was Marcus Vinicius’ tip-in with 5.5 seconds left, as well as a pair of free throws that Gasol missed with 24 seconds on the clock.
It was a huge victory for Brazil, which improved to 1-1 in the competitive Group B. The question is whether it was just another bump in the road for Spain or a sign of the national team’s decline.
Spain’s starting point guard for the last two Olympics (though he missed the last two games in 2008 with an injury), Jose Calderon, has spent almost all of the first two games here on the bench. Calderon was a DNP against Croatia and played less than two minutes against Brazil.
Calderon, now 34 years old, playing behind Ricky Rubio, Sergio Rodriguez and Sergio Llull is a clear indication that the national team is in a period of transition. Calderon’s generation, which includes Pau Gasol (36), Juan Carlos Navarro (36) and Felipe Reyes (36), is on its way out.
And with the younger talent that Spain has in the backcourt, Calderon is the first to really take a back seat. He spoke with NBA.com about that topic after Tuesday’s loss.
NBA.com: Has it been tough to sit and watch these games?
Calderon: It’s always tough when your team loses. It’s about us. We got three more games and we can make it happen or not. Hopefully, it can get better.
NBA.com: But you’ve always had a bigger role for this team.
Calderon: Yeah, but you know, it’s always changing. Everything is changing, but always the team first. I know my role. I know why I’m here. I’m happy to be here. I’m happy to help my team.
NBA.com: You’re healthy?
Calderon: 100 percent. I’m ready to help when my name is called and ready, as well, for next season with the Lakers. I think it’s going to be an exciting one and I’m happy to be there as well.
NBA.com: Spain has lost games early in the tournament before and come back to medal. Does this feel any different?
Calderon: It’s different. You always want to get a win as soon as possible and the difference is we [almost] got them. It was right there for us. We didn’t finish and we have to be better with that. Hopefully, we can change this around. If we get these [next] three wins, we’ll be in [the quarterfinals]. That’s how we got to think.
NBA.com: How much is Marc Gasol missed?
Calderon: I’ll be lying if I say the team doesn’t miss somebody like Marc Gasol. He’s a great player, but health is always first. He’s got to be ready for training camp.
NBA.com: Is this national team in transition?
Calderon: It’s been like that for a while. If you take out the four or five guys that have been together for so long, the young guys come in. They’re going to be here for a while.
In my position, there are so many guys. Ricky, Chacho (Rodriguez), or even [Guillem] Vives was there last year [at Eurobasket].
NBA.com: It seems like other European teams are up there with you, that Spain isn’t as clearly second best basketball team in the world as it was four or eight years ago.
Calderon: I think we won a lot because of our experience, because we knew how to play in those moments, not because we were much, much better than the other teams. I think, right now, everybody’s getting better. Everybody’s getting used to playing these kinds of tournaments. It’s a long tournament and it doesn’t matter what happens at the beginning. You just got to keep going.
NBA.com: But Group B here is tough, and at least one good team isn’t going to make the quarterfinals.
Calderon: I don’t feel like anybody [in the group] going to go 5-0. It would be a surprise if somebody wins every game. That’s how equal it is. That’s good for us and hopefully, it will work out.