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Liveblog: Spain vs. Croatia

In the first game of the "win or go home" quarterfinal round, second place Group B finishers Spain squared off with Croatia, their third place rivals from group A. These two clubs have some history with one another. At the 2005 Eurobasket, Spain knocked off Croatia in a controversial overtime thriller. Then two years later at the 2007 European championships, Croatian guard Marko Tomas stuck a fadeaway three pointer in the final seconds to stun Spain in an 85-84. With a shot at a medal on the line Wednesday afternoon in Beijing, both countries were ready for the third round.

1st Quarter

  • Pau Gasol kicks things off for the Spaniards by knocking down a jumper over 7-foot Croatian center Stanko Barac.
  • Barac doesn’t last long. The 22 year old center fouls Gasol and is benched after an only a minute and 15 seconds.
  • The only two games Croatia have lost have been contests where they’ve shot under 50% from three.
  • If it weren't for the whole part about getting tackled, Pau Gasol would make a heck of a tight end in red zone situations. Less than three minutes into the first quarter he's already made some extraordinarily difficult catches in traffic.
  • Interesting backcourt match-up between future NBA point guards Roko Ukic and Ricky Rubio.
  • Garbajosa strokes a three over Ukic's outstretched arms. Spain up 6-1.
  • Rubio comes up with a loose ball and fires a beautiful one handed ally-oop pass to Gasol. Spaniards in control early. Timeout Croatia.
  • Gasol spins baseline and scores. He's really giving the Croatian frontcourt problems.
  • Croatia still without a field goal after more than five minutes of play.
  • Pleased with a traveling violation called on Croatia, Rudy Fernandez claps his hands and gives the referee a pat on the butt. Is that allowed? For his own sake I hope he doesn't try that with Joey Crawford next year. Dick Bavetta on the other hand...
  • Croatia with six turnovers already and just four shots.
  • Another ally-oop dunk from Pau Gasol, who has been unstoppable so far around the basket. Spain up 12-1.
  • With 3: 26 left in the first, Marko Banic gives Croatia it's first field goal on a baseline drive.
  • Speaking of Pau Gasol and football, his bearded brother Marc just checked into the game. Marc looks like a taller, slimmer version of Green Packers right tackle Marc Tauscher.
  • Jose Calderon hits a very high arcing thee pointer late in the shot clock. Spain up 15-4.
  • Calderon backhands Croatian Davor Kus in the face while dribbling past mid-court. Nothing is called and the Croatian bench isn't happy.
  • Zoran Plananic hits an NBA range thee pointer with two seconds left on the shot clock. Spain up 17-9.
  • Alex Mumbru answers back a few possessions later with an even longer three pointer. Don't these guys know that they don't have to shoot from so far away? Spain leads 22-9.
  • Tomas drives into the Spanish defense for a buzzer beating lay-up to end the first. 22-11 Spain.

2nd Quarter

  • Tomas opens the quarter with a drive and kick to big man Sandro Nicevic, who nails the jumper. Tomas has realty impressed me, both at this tournament and last year's European championships. He's knocked down shots and isn’t afraid of taking it to the basket. I think he has a future as a catch and shoot guy in the NBA if he finds the right situation. At over 6-7 he's also got good size for the two spot. He's not overly athletic, but as a rotation guy he really doesn't need to me.
  • Kus is fouled on a three pointer and nails all three shots. Calderon comes back on the next possession and sticks another three for the Spanish. 25-16 Spain.
  • Spanish forward Felipe Reyes forearms the much smaller Kus in the midsection, and Kus is somehow called for blocking. Rudy manages to refrain from giving the ref another pat on the bottom.
  • Spanish players don’t seem very adept at giving Gasol a post entry pass. Aside from the lobs, all of the passes to Gasol down low have been way too high and nearly uncatchable.
  • Gasol didn’t need a pass on that one. The Laker center cleans up a missed lay-up for a powerful follow up slam over a couple of Croatians, plus the foul.
  • Another absurdly high pass to Gasol, another miraculous catch. Amazing catches should at least be a footnote in the box score.
  • Jorge Garbajosa drives and finds Gasol for another dunk. Gasol already has 14 points with four dunks, and Spain leads 32-18.
  • On the other end Gasol defends Nikola Prkacin down low and the Croatian sends a sharp elbow to Pau's kidney, yet the Spaniard is whistled for a foul. Gasol's reenactment to the referee of what it was like to be elbowed by Prkacin falls on deaf ears. "In the NBA that's an offensive foul" states the announcer on the USA network.
  • Rudy has some very long, but very scrawny looking arms. He's going to need to hit the weights in Portland.
  • Some crafty Croatian passing leads to a lay-up for Marko Banic. Spain up 32-21 with 3:23 left in the first half.
  • Marc Gasol misses a point blank lay-up. Not exactly Pau-esque. "Marc Gasol should take a page out of his brother Pau's book" proclaims the USA analyst. I agree, but that's probably easier said than done.
  • Right on queue, Marc catches the ball wit his back to the basket, puts a beautiful spin move on Nikola Prkacin and lays it in for two. Gasol then mutters to himself on his way back up the court. If Marc is going to start talking to himself the way KG does, there will undoubdetly be some terrified children sitting in the lower bowls of NBA arenas next year.
  • The Croatians seem to be passing up relatively uncontested three pointers in favor much tougher mid-range shots, and it isn’t working.
  • A Ukic transition lay-up cuts the lead to 11, 37-26 Spain with 28 seconds left. Although Croatia is hanging around, they are really struggling to get into their offense All of their shots are at the tail end of the shot clock and the smothering Spanish defense isn’t allowing many decent looks at the basket.
  • Croatia is just 8-24 from the floor in the first half, which just isn’t going to cut it against a team like Spain.

3rd Quarter

  • A scramble for a Spanish offensive rebound finds its way into the hands of Garbajosa, who calmly sinks a baseline jumper to start the second half.
  • Croatia sloppily turns it over a couple times in their first few possessions of the 3rd. If they don’t get things in check soon I have a feeling Spain is going to blow this open.
  • Spain wisely playing through Gasol down low. Defense reacts to Pau's post-up and he swings it back out to Rudy for a three. Croatia looks slow on both sides of the ball. Spain up 42-26.
  • Ricky Rubio gets sandwiched in a screen by the wide-bodied Prakacin and falls to the ground. He then gets landed on by the 250-pound Croatian and is inexplicably whistled for a foul. "Rubio isn't big enough to get sat on by some of these bigger players" proclaims the television analyst (these guys aren't announcing their names, so I have no idea what to call them).
  • Rubio is promptly benched in favor of Jose Calderon after an ill-advised ally-oop attempt to Rudy.
  • Pau Gasol flies back on defense to swat away the three-point attempt of Kus. Gasol is really giving it to the Croatians from every angle. He's dunking, dishing, blocking, and boarding. Spain up 41-28
  • Croatia is getting nothing on offense, and as Garbajosa nails a 25 foot three pointer on the other end it appears the rout is on. Spain leads by 19, 47-28.
  • No joke--just spotted Rudy Fernandez rubbing the lower back of another referee while trying to plead his case about a call. I hope that guy is his uncle or something, or else Spain has been at a real advantage. The Spanish coach has seen enough and promptly takes Fernandez out of the game.
  • Croatia misses a wide-open jumper and Marc Gasol bowls someone over to grab the defensive board. I'm becoming a Marc Gasol fan, but he needs a good nickname. I think he should be known as either El Leñador Amenazador (the menacing lumberjack) or El Woodsman Enloquecido (the crazed woodsman). Either one. He'll fit right in on a team named the Grizzlies.
  • Croatia cuts the lead to 14 after a nice feed to Kresmir Loncar and another fast break lay-up from Ukic. Ukic's perimeter shot hasn't been dropping, but he does seem to have really strong ball control, and at 6-5 he has a height advantage over most of the people who will guard him. It will be interesting to see if he gets PT in Toronto next season.
  • Ricky Rubio looks very unsure of himself when shooting the basketball. He passed up a wide-open three earlier in the game and just now at the foul line his form and release were definitely a little off.
  • After three quarters Croatia has only connected on 2/14 three pointers while the Spanish are 6/19 from downtown.
  • The announcers finnaly announce their names. Sounds something like Mike Crispino and Bob Sendly.

4th Quarter

  • Marko Tomas finally gets a three to start the 4th, and remarkably it's only a ten-point game. Spain leading just 51-41 is pretty shocking considering how thoroughly they seem to have out played the Croatians so far.
  • Rudy Fernandez answers right back with a beautiful lay-up off a hard cut down the lane. That was an NBA move.
  • On the very next offensive possession for Spain, Fernandez gets the rock, drives into the Croatian defense, and nails a strong runner despite a lot of contact. Two very impressive moves from Rudy.
  • Gasol easily puts one home down low and gets fouled in the process. He then scrunches up his nose, shrugs his shoulders and makes a face at the Spanish bench as if to say "I'm by far the best player on the court and this has been way too easy."  At least that's way I interpreted that look.
  • Things get chippy as Tomas and Rudy are tangled up. Both have some words for one another after Tomas is whistled for the foul. Analyst says, "Fernandez has been a catalyst in these situations throughout the entire tournament. He always has something to say after the fact."
  • Alex Mumbru converts on one of the slowest and most unathletic drives to the basket I've ever seen. Croatians should be ashamed for letting him score that one.
  • An off-balance Calderon jumper puts Spain up 63-41. Their talent and depth has just overwhelmed the Croatians.
  • The only reason I'm going to continue watching this is because I'm waiting/hoping to see whether a) any more scuffles breakout and b) Rudy will inappropriately touch a referee for a third time.
  • The large Lithuanian contingent in Beijing is already in attendance in anticipation for their country's game against China. It would be a fun experience to put on Lithuanian apparel and sit in the middle of all the Lithuanian fans.
  • That's it, Spain wins 72-59.

Post-Game Thoughts

Spain moves on to the semifinals and sends Croatia packing with a convincing 72-59 victory. Pau Gasol was simply too much for the Croatians to handle, putting in 20 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, and blocking three shots. Croatia struggled to get into their offense, thanks in large part to some very disruptive Spanish defense. The three pointers that were going in for Croatia in their three victories betrayed them against Spain, as Croatia shot just 5/19 from behind the arc.

One key player who surely could have helped the Croatians was Marko Popovic. Popovic, a big time shot taker (and maker), missed the contest after tearing a ligament in his foot. He might have provided some much-needed offensive relief for the Croatians, who constantly found themselves having to force bad shots with the shot clock winding down.

When Spain was able to play through Gasol they were very effective. Particularly when Gasol was matched up against a smaller defender and he required immediate defensive help, he was really able to free up his teammates on the perimeter. Gasol is so skilled around the basket and has such soft hands that it seems absurd to do anything but make him the primary offensive option at all times., though Spain did have multiple miscues trying to get him the ball down low. They threw at least three or four passes that Stretch Armstrong would have struggled to catch. Spain can’t afford to be sloppy like that from here on out if they want a shot at a medal. They now await Lithuania, who throttled the host Chinese 94-68 in the late game.