A late surge from Greece wasn’t enough as Pau Gasol guided Spain to the last four of EuroBasket 2015
Would the real Spain show up tonight? Or at least what Spain are supposed to be? Everybody in the media section had Greece picked although the Greek contingent was less confident than the neutrals. It wasn’t based on anything they had seen up to now. It’s that lingering fear that Spain, no matter what has happend in previous games, have that extra gear for when the competition gets serious. All we had going into tonight was a whole heap of Pau Gasol and not a lot of anything else. No-one had been lacking more than Sergio Llull so when he opened the game with a pair of threes, the Greek fears looked well-founded.
On the court however this lively start by the Spanish wasn’t phasing Greece. Vassilis Spanoulis and Kosta Koufos had little trouble finding the net. The Spanish defence, awol all tournament, was showing no sign of turning up. Pau, of course, was doing the heay lifting There was nothing between them after the first. 14-14 and we really hadn’t learned much. This game was very much still taking shape. The one thing that stood out, Spain were 6 of 17 from the field. That’s an awful lot like what we saw in Berlin. The load was on Gasol’s back. He needed someone to step up and help carry it.
Sergio Rodriguez and Giannis Antetokounmpo exchanged threes to start the second periood but this was still a pretty open one. Nikola Mirotic scored from deep twice and Spain had a 7 point lead midway through the frame. Mirotic had got the memo and had 12 points by the half. Fotis Katsikaris has shown in this tournament that he can adapt in-game when necessary. Greece went back to their three small line-up with Nikos Zisis, Nick Calathes, and Kostas Sloukas sharing the floor. That got the scoreboard ticking over for Greece but then Pau went to work again, scoring 14. The big for the Greek journalists was their pick and roll D. Spain were exploiting with ease. That was opening up other spots. At the half they were in charge, without ever really exerting themselves. It was a 39-32 lead, a good starting point.
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Then came the Greeks and hard. A 14-3 run to start the second half pushed Greece into a 4 point lead before Pau, who else, nailed one from deep. Antetokounmpo was quickly approaching double-double territory and Greece were in confident form. Koufos over Gasol? No problem. Spain’s De was still nowhere to be seen and now they were relying on living with the Greeks in a shootout. Katsikaris started shaking things up. Zisis and Koufos sat for Yannis Bourousis and Nick Calathes. Gasol was keeping Spain on level terms but the rest of his side’s offence had disappeared. The Freak was doing work like Pau only he had the help he needed. Greece stretched it out again. The crowd, largely silent in the first half were back into this. Calathes, a returned Zisis, Geogios Printezis, the answers kept coming. Greece were going with three bigs again but the earlier rotations had kept them fresh. With 10 minutes to play Greece only led 57-55 but they looked far more dangerous.
Spain spent the guts of the first minute and a half in Greek territory with just 1 point to show for it but the Greeks picked up 4 fouls in the process. That was a big problem to have hanging over them and Spain started to charge. Felipe Reyes pushed Spain back in front and then Mirotic out-raced the Freak to make a dunk. Katsikaris needed to call in his charges. A three by the Freak restored order. Now it as time to see if the cavalry had really arrived to relieve Pau. Claver was grinding the boards, Mirotic was keeping his end up, Chacho was showing up in flashes, although Llull had completely disappeared. It was enough to give Greece a headache. Spain were up 6 and had 3 minutes to play. Far from out of sight but a position the old Spain, the one Europe fears coming back, could control.
The handles were sloppy, the Freak’s assistance was disappearing. Greece were making the type of boneheaded mistakes that saw Spain struggle through their first 6 games at this competition. Then Llull showed up, first to kill the clock and then to force the Freak out of his stride and into a travelling violation. Spain were getting enough from all quarters now. Greece were all bit gone. A late flurry nearly saved them but Pau was there. Spain hung on. They were over the line and ready to haunt the French.