RIO DE JANEIRO — Group B in the Olympic Men’s Basketball tournament promised to be, with five teams with medal hopes and only four tickets to the quarterfinals, the more interesting of the two groups. And it has already been more interesting that we could have imagined. Through four days of action, every team in Group B has at least one win and one loss.
And on a day where Spain may have righted its ship and two rivals produced an instant classic, Nigeria threw another wrinkle in the standings with an upset of Croatia. And with one more day to go, every team is still alive.
Argentina wins double-OT classic
Andres Nocioni is 36 years old and hasn’t played in the NBA in four years. But put “El Chapu” in an Argentina uniform for the final time (we think), and he can do special things.
On Saturday afternoon, Nocioni played more than 47 minutes and scored 37 points (the high for the Olympics thus far) in Argentina’s 111-107, double-overtime victory over Brazil. The atmosphere, with the two South American rivals facing off in Brazil’s gym, was incredible. The stakes were high and the game delivered the goods.
“No matter what sport or whatever’s going on, if it’s Brazil against Argentina, it’s going to be a battle,” incoming Spurs rookie Patricio Garino (who had several key steals) said afterward. “The atmosphere was unbelievable. Playing in this kind of setting is going to be memories for life.”
Facundu Campazzo added 33 points and 11 assists for Argentina, but the biggest play of the game was an offensive rebound from the 5-11 point guard off a Manu Ginobili miss in the final seconds of regulation. With Argentina down three, Campazzo found Nocioni, whose step-back three tied the game with 3.9 seconds left.
Brazil couldn’t get a good shot off at the end of regulation, and Ginobili’s runner to win was off the mark at the end of the first overtime. Campazzo started the second OT off with two threes and Argentina withstood a big flurry from Leandro Barbosa to pull out the win, with Ginobili securing the game with another critical offensive rebound in the final seconds.
“What we did today was big, everybody, because we fight, we play hard, and we try to compete,” Nocioni said. “We lost control of the game sometimes, but always, we try to keep going, keep going.”
Nene (24 points, 11 rebounds) had a big game for Brazil, but the hosts are facing a disappointing scenario if they don’t qualify for the quarterfinals. They looked to be in good shape after beating Spain in their second game, but have come up just short in each of their other three, having lost them by a total of just 14 points.
Twelve years after they won it all in Athens, Argentina’s golden generation (with some help from a 25-year-old point guard) is still alive and will be in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. No matter what happens from now on, it’s already been a fun last ride … if it has indeed the last ride.
“It was the last ride four years ago,” Nocioni said with a laugh. “Maybe, you never know, maybe we’re coming back in Tokyo.”
Spain looks strong again
After losing to Croatia and Brazil and struggling to pull away against Nigeria, Spain (2-2) played its best game on Saturday night, thumping previously unbeaten Lithuania 109-59. Because they don’t have the tiebreaker vs. Brazil, Spain’s elimination games began Saturday. And they got the first one they needed to stay alive.
“We had two finals,” Ricky Rubio said afterward. “Today we came to play, and Monday, it’s another final.”
Pau Gasol (23 points, five rebounds, five assists, two blocks, 5-for-5 from 3-point range) dominated his matchup with Jonas Valanciunas (0-for-6). Rubio (3-for-4 from 3-point range) finally hit a few jumpers and kept Lithuania on its heels defensively. And Nikola Mirotic (17 points, 8-for-11 shooting) was strong inside and out.
Spain is missing Marc Gasol, but still could be the second best team in the tournament when it’s all said and done. Of course, it could also be going home early if it doesn’t beat Argentina on Monday.
“We were trying to find our DNA out there [in the first two games], and I think we found it [Saturday],” Rubio said. “We haven’t done anything special yet, but I think we’re on the right track.”
Nigeria stays alive
Nigeria was, seemingly, the one team in Group B that didn’t have a shot at advancing to the quarterfinals. But suddenly, it’s still alive with a stunning, 90-76 victory over Croatia in Saturday’s late game. The 3-point shooting tells the story. Nigeria was 17-for-36 from beyond the arc, while Croatia was 6-for-28.
Croatia has quality wins over Spain and Brazil and could have clinched a spot in the quarterfinals with a win Saturday. But it’s future is now in some doubt.
Bottom line from Group B: Argentina (3-1) and Lithuania (3-1) are in the quarterfinals, while Spain (2-2) and Croatia (2-2) control their own destiny. Brazil (1-3) and Nigeria (1-3) need help.
Big games Monday
And here’s a rundown of Monday’s slate …
- Brazil (1-3) vs. Nigeria (1-3) – 1:15 p.m. ET – The winner of this game is still alive, while the loser is eliminated. A Brazil win also means that Croatia clinches a spot in the quarterfinals.
- Argentina (3-1) vs. Spain (2-2) – 6 p.m. ET – If Brazil wins the first game, Spain needs to win to stay alive, because it will have lost to the two teams (Brazil and Croatia) it could possibly be tied with at 2-3.
- Croatia (2-2) vs. Lithuania (3-1) – 9:30 p.m. ET – Lithuania clinches the top seed in Group B with a win. Croatia needs to win to stay alive if Nigeria wins the first game.
If two teams are tied, the tiebreaker is head-to-head. So Brazil and Croatia both have the tiebreaker over Spain.
If multiple teams are tied, the tiebreaker goes to the team with the best record in games between those teams. If that’s even — say Croatia, Nigeria and Spain all tie at 2-3 — it comes down to point differential in games between those teams. In the aforementioned scenario, Spain (plus-7) would finish third, Nigeria (plus-5) would finish fourth, and Croatia (minus-12) would be eliminated.
If Spain beat Argentina and Croatia beat Lithuania, we would have a four-way tie at 3-2 for first place. Stay tuned …
Group A wraps Sunday
Group A is much more easier to figure out. The U.S. needs to beat France (1:15 ET) to clinch first place, because a loss could produce (if Australia beats Venezuela) a three-way tie between Australia, France and the U.S. In that case, point differential in the games between the three teams (who would all be 1-1 within the group) would determine the seeds. Australia beat France by 21, while the U.S. only beat Australia by 10, so a France win on Sunday would put Australia in first place and drop the U.S. to second (or third if it lost by 16 or more).
If the U.S. beats France, Australia is second (no matter its result) and France is third. Venezuela, meanwhile, can stay alive with a win over Australia (6 p.m. ET), but Serbia would take fourth (and eliminate Venezuela) with a win over China in the late game (9:30 p.m. ET).