A 15-2 run to start the third quarter gave Italy the edge they needed as Spain suffered a big shock that will leave their fate in doubt until Thursday
Of course Italy had a Datome section right behind the media seats. After two displays that did little to inspire over the weekend, not a whole lot was expected from Italy as they took the floor against Spain in a clash of 1-1 teams. Italy took an early 6-1 lead but Pau Gasol was a force in the early going and looked like he would be a problem all night for the Italians. With Pau getting extra attention inside, there was ample room for Pau Ribas to drain a pair of threes as the Spanish offence started cooking. A repeat of Sunday’s demolition of Turkey would be too much to ask but Spain knew they had the weapons to hurt Italy early and often. Danilo Gallinari, fresh off a stinker against Iceland, was looking back to the form that nearly saved Italy on opening day. This time however he had some support as Andrea Bargnani delivered 10 points in the first frame while there were actual sightings of Marco Belinelli. At the end of a first quarter low on defence it was Spain who heled the narrow lead, 20-19.
Nicolo Melli gave the Datome section something to cheer early in the second with a jumper that went in off the iron. This wasn’t just a livelier display from Italy, it was a far more organised one too. Simone Piangiani’s side was actually moving the ball, you know that thing you do in basketball, and trying to create shots for each other as opposed to and endless string of one-on-ones. That it took this calibre of opponent for them to do so is concerning but at least we were starting to see a team capable of making the knockout stages. Defensively Italy got smarter and started to make life more difficult for Spain around the perimeter. Spain looked to counter by beefing up their interior with Guillermo Hernangomez and Felipe Reyes attacking the paint. Italy however had options and were looking to use all of them. With Gasol back in, Spain went back in front but Italy weren’t going away anytime soon. An enjoyable and close first half ended with Spain ahead 45-42.
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Marco Belinelli got the Italian fans on their feet with a big three as Italy took an early advantage in the second half. Up to now the game, albeit close, was largely devoid of tension. In a game both sides really needed to win, albeit for differing reasons, it was odd to see such calm on both sides. The Italian side was making the first real charge of the game and their 15-2 run to start the third opened up a 10 point lead. Spain were rattled and their sloppy handle showed it. Even when Italy missed, Spain looked liokely to gift them a second chance opportunity. A pair of scores from Rudy Fernandez finally calmed Spain’s nerves but Italy’s heads were up and they looked confident on every attack. The big three of Bargs, Belinelli, and Gallo were carrying the Italian offence now as they sensed a legitimate shot at the upset. With 10 minutes to play, this was Italy’s game to lose as a buzzer beaer from Belinelli gave them a 73-63 lead.
Italy really wanted this badly and a pair of threes from Gallo and Belinelli stretched the lead to 13. Spain were essentially going to need Italy to start missing a whole bunch of shots if they were to get back into this one. Gasol really was the only man keeping Spain in this with individually dominant night but even he could only do so much against Gallo and Belinelli’s aerial bombardment. A Bargs dunk, assisted by Belinelli, looked to have put a cap on this one with 3 minutes still to go. Bargnani fouled out right after however and with Alessandro Gentile also in trouble, there was just that slight concern that a window would be left open for the favourites. Belinelli used his head and started playing the clock with 2 minutes to play. That was enough to shut down Spain’s comeback. Italy, a team that had disappointed wildly before tonight finally had a game where all those shots dropped. Italy had blown this group wide open.