RIO DE JANEIRO — From an 0-2 start to a berth in the semifinals, Spain has turned into, maybe, the best team in the Olympic Men’s Basketball tournament. The European champs are certainly the best defensive team at this point.
A French team that scored 97 points against the United States on Sunday was held to just 67 points on 39 percent shooting in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. Spain rolled into the semis and a potential matchup with the U.S. with a 25-point victory over their European rivals.
To get the rematch of the last two gold medal games, the U.S. will need to beat Argentina Wednesday night. Spain (4-2) took care of business by outscoring France 50-33 over the middle two quarters.
Pau Gasol took a back seat in the offense and looked to get his teammates going early. The strategy worked and some pretty ball movement led to an open Nikola Mirotic corner 3-pointer that gave Spain the lead for good at 9-8. France was within three at the end of the first quarter, but the Knicks’ Willy Hernangomez scored six points on an 8-1 Spain run to start the second.
Mirotic had 16 points by halftime. He was matched up with Boris Diaw most of the afternoon, but switches allowed him to score inside against Nicolas Batum or drive around Rudy Gobert. And the passing of Spain’s guards allowed him to consistently get open beyond the arc.
“I felt like Spain was the Spurs tonight,” Tony Parker said afterward, “and I was on the other side.”
The game marked the end of Parker’s national team career.
“Tony Parker,” French coach Vincent Collet said, “is the best French player for ever.”
Mirotic finished with a game-high 23 points, shooting 5-for-8 from 3-point range.
“When he learns when to shoot and when to play for the team,” Ricky Rubio said of Mirotic, “it’s unstoppable. He had an amazing game today. He was the key. But not just that, I think he’s really learning to be important on defense too.”
France couldn’t get things going offensively like it did against the United States on Sunday. Parker scored 14 points on 4-for-9 shooting, but Batum (0 points, 0-for-2) was invisible on offense. Credit the Spain defense, which has allowed less than 92 points per 100 possessions in its four games against teams that made the quarterfinals.
“We didn’t lose control at any moment,” Rubio said about his team’s recovery from its 0-2 start, “even though our situation wasn’t the best. We played as a team. Nobody stepped up as an individual and everybody stepped up as a teammate.”