12:00 PM ET, August 10, 2012
Spain rallies past Russia behind Jose Calderon, Pau Gasol for spot in final
LONDON -- The euphoria was mixed with relief. Spain nearly lost its chance at Olympic gold, and worse, another shot at the Americans.
So, when it ended, the Spaniards rejoiced -- and exhaled.
They'll play for a second straight title. Silver may suffice, but gold would be sweeter.
"It's huge to make it twice in a row to the Olympic finals," Pau Gasol said. "We have to enjoy it and appreciate the moment, but there's still one game left. We can't just be happy with reaching the final."
Righting The Ship
Pau Gasol and Co. shot just 21 percent in the opening half, but recovered to keep alive hopes of winning a first Olympic gold medal. Some key facts:
• Spain: Third Olympic final Sunday; lost to U.S. in 2008 and 1984
• Spain: Trailed 31-20 at halftime; outscored Russia 47-28 in second half
• Russia: Has not won men's basketball medal as independent nation
• Russia: Will play for bronze Sunday
They nearly missed it.
Trailing by 11 at halftime, Spain rallied in the second half for a 67-59 win over Russia on Friday, setting up a rematch in the final against the U.S.
Jose Calderon scored 12 of his 14 points after halftime, Pau Gasol added 16 and Spain, battling injuries which had prevented it from playing up to its high standards so far in this tournament, dug deep in the second half to earn a spot in the finals for the second straight Olympics.
Four years ago in Beijing, the Spaniards hung with the Americans before losing 118-107. The U.S. beat Argentina 109-83 in the second semifinal game Friday night and will meet Spain in the gold-medal game Sunday.
Spain trailed Russia by 13 in the first quarter and was still down by double digits in the third before showing why its the world's No. 2-ranked team. The Spaniards shot just 21 percent in the opening half, but recovered to keep alive their dreams of winning a first Olympic gold.
"We're back again and we're going to continue fighting," Pau Gasol said. "Battling right to the end."
After the final horn, Spain's players gathered tightly in a circle near midcourt and spun around in a circle, big kids on a hardwood playground.
Pau Gasol gave Sergio Rodriguez a piggyback ride, Marc Gasol rumbled into the stands to hug anyone he could get his hands on, and other players embraced members of the Spanish royal family sitting courtside. Even long after the game ended, Spanish fans could still be heard roaring outside the media conference room.
Spain figured to be among the last teams standing. But for nearly 30 minutes, it appeared its roster full of NBA talent and some of the game's most experienced international players, would be playing for bronze instead of gold. Disappointment was looming, and the Spaniards knew it.
Their shots weren't falling, and with Russia playing disciplined and relaxed, Spain was in serious trouble.
But Calderon, who plays for the Toronto Raptors, ignited his countrymen with three 3-pointers in the second half and Spain got a big lift off the bench from reserves Felipe Reyes and Sergio Llull.
Spain, which lost to Russia in pool play, awakened in the third and closed within 44-41 on Pau Gasol's 3-pointer, a shot he celebrated by flashing three fingers on both hands. After a turnover by Russia, the Los Angeles Lakers' star hammered home a rebound to bring Spain within one.
Calderon then ended the period with a 3-pointer as Spain caught Russia at 46-all entering the fourth.
Calderon's 3 with 7:22 left gave Spain its first lead, and he hit another long-range jumper to make it 58-50 with 5:11 remaining.
Meanwhile, the Russians fell apart. After making just three turnovers in the first half, they had eight in the first 15 minutes of the second half, sloppiness that would haunt them.
"We kind of started falling down," Kirilenko said. "We lost our composure. We just stopped executing. In the first half, we did a very good job of converting our defense into offense, we stayed with our game, made some easy shots and layups. We stopped doing that in the second half."
After Marc Gasol powered down low for a layup and was fouled, Spain's lead had grown to 10 and the bearded, bruising center let out a scream that could be heard back in Madrid.
His brother then delivered a dagger-like dunk, sending Spain's fans into their familiar chants of "Ole, ole, ole."
Spain would play for gold after all.
They'll play one more game, one for everything.
"I'm extremely proud of all we have accomplished as a team," said coach Sergio Scariolo. "That doesn't mean that our mission is over."