Our favorite Argentinean Sebas Adúriz (aka Palomba) is in Mar del Plata for the FIBA Americas tournament this week and was kind enough to file the following report along with the accompanying photographs. Thanks Palomba!
UPDATE: Argentina went on to defeat Brazil 80-75 in the somewhat-academic title game Sunday night. Carlos Delfino scored 16 along with nine boards.
"Oh, Argentina, it’s an emotion, I can’t stop. Ole, ole, I love you more every day."
Carlos Delfino was swinging his shirt over his head and chanting with teammates at center court. The crowd of 8,000 packing the Islas Malvinas arena in Mar del Plata sang along with them. They were all exultant and relieved: moments before, J.J. Barea’s potential game-winning three had bounced off the rim. And with it, the Caribbean country’s chance at an automatic berth to next summer's Olympic Games in London.
The last minute was terrific, befitting of a game with so much on the line. Having led by as many as eight, Argentina clung to a lead of just 80-79 in the waning seconds. In what would be their second to last possession, Puerto Rico would predictably attack with their stars: an Arroyo or Barea drive to the rim. This time it was Boston’s backup point guard, but Delfino walled off his way to the paint, forcing Arroyo to pass and then grabbing the rebound that came from the contested shot that followed. It may have been the defensive play of the night. Argentina’s point guard Pablo Prigioni was then fouled and made one of two free throws, doubling Argentina's lead to 81-79. And with six seconds to go, Barea missed his last shot.
"My heart stopped," Manu Ginobili would say afterwards in the press room. "Imagine what it would have been like to be left out in front of my people, my friends and family. This was the game with the most pressure in my whole career, maybe only compared to playoff game seven in the 2005 Finals [against Detroit]. It was an opportunity that we couldn’t let go."
Until that point the game had been a back and forth affair. In the first quarter it was Argentina taking command with an unstoppable Scola, who scored 16 points on perfect 8/8 shooting. Carlos helped with 5 points (a straightaway trey and a nice jumper), which in the end would represent his entire contribution to Argentina’s point total. Then in the second it was the Barea and Arroyo show to help Puerto Rico to a 44-40 halftime lead. And in the third it was Ginobili who came to the rescue with 12 points.
"Fortunately, Manu stepped up to score the points I was missing," Carlos declared after the game, though the Bucks' wing was still Argentina's top rebounder with eight.
In the fourth, the partisan crowd was on edge, shouting and rooting–this reporter included—to try to stop Puerto Rico from tying the game. But Barea’s shot finally put an end to a so-called "Death Saturday." Having played ten games in less than two weeks, the four semifinalists' efforts were reduced to what happened on Saturday.
And with it also ended one of the final chapters for the Golden Generation's farewell tour that hopefully will end on a high note next summer in London. The young Argentineans that won gold and bronze medals in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics have aged, with Delfino the only one still under 30. Scola and Andres Nocioni are both 31; Manu (34) has announced that he will probably retire from the national team after the Olympic Games; Oberto (36) and Pepe Sánchez (34) are little more than occasional role players at this point.
But for the moment, another great day with the tournament's championship still to be determined on Sunday nightbetween Brazil and Argentina. Before Argentina’s game, Brazil took care of the Dominican Republic 83-76 with a superb performance by point guard Marcelinho Huertas. Charlie Villanueva, by the way, had one of his better games of the tourney: 8 points, 3 rebounds and 1 block in 13 minutes.
So for the second time in less than three days we will have a second edition of the South American derby. Will it be a more relaxed one, now that both teams are classified for the Olympics? A Brazilian reporter asked Manu Ginobili that same question at the press conference. Manu smiled and answered, putting his extended hand between his teeth, as if he was holding a knife.
Don't bet on it.
Argentina (81): Pablo Prigioni 16, Emanuel Ginóbili 23, Carlos Delfino 5, Federico Kammerichs 3 and Luis Scola 27. From the bench: Fabricio Oberto 2, Pepe Sánchez 0, Hernán Jasen 5 y Andrés Nocioni 0. Coach: Julio Lamas
Puerto Rico (79): Juan José Barea 20, Carlos Arroyo 15, Ricky Sánchez 0, Alex Galindo 2 and Daniel Santiago 16. From the bench: Reynaldo Balkman 10, Michael Holland 11, Angel Álamo 0, Andrés Rodríguez 0, Manuel Narváez 5. Coach: Flor Meléndez