Spain slams door on loaded Argentina

by Jack Gallagher

SAITAMA — Manu Ginobili had a chance Friday night to send Argentina into the final of the FIBA World Championship, but as the clock ticked down the NBA star found the door closed by the smothering defense of Spain and the Olympic champions saw their title hopes evaporate with a 75-74 defeat.

News photo Spain’s Pau Gasol passes the ball during a World Basketball
Championship semifinal match against Argentina at Saitama Super Arena on Friday.
KYODO PHOTO

Ginobili, stuck in the lane, kicked the ball out to fellow NBAer Andres Nocioni, who had an open look from six meters on the baseline with just four seconds left, but his shot from the baseline bounced off the rim and Spain grabbed the rebound and ran out the clock for the victory.

Spain will play Greece, which beat the United States in Friday’s first semifinal, in Sunday night’s final which starts at 7:30 p.m.

Argentina made a late run in the game, but Spain responded to each and every challenge on the way to posting its 17th straight victory in international play.

Pau Gasol and Jorge Garbajosa scored 19 points each for Spain, which trailed by 11 points at one stage, in the emotional win.

Ginobili, a two-time NBA champion with the San Antonio Spurs, tallied a game-high 21 points for Argentina in the loss. Nocioni finished with 15.

Both teams were a perfect 7-0 entering the highly anticipated contest.

Spain, which finished fifth at the 2002 World Championship and fourth at the 2004 Olympics, seemed poised for a breakout heading into the tournament.

With the continued development of center Gasol, who has blossomed into one of the finest players in the world, and Garbajosa, Spain has hit its stride in Japan and is living up to its immense potential.

Coach Pepu Hernandez said that it looks like Gasol won’t play on Sunday.

The Memphis Grizzlies star drove the ball baseline late in the game and fell down, injuring his left foot. Gasol had to be helped to the locker room by teammates after the victory.

Nocioni, who plays for the Chicago Bulls, scored nine points as Argentina moved out to a 21-15 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Spain trailed 30-23 in with 6:40 left in the second quarter after Argentina’s Walter Herrmann and Carlos Delfino connected on consecutive 3-pointers, but fought back quickly to tie the game on consecutive dunks by Rudy Fernandez.

The Spaniards then completed a quick 10-run by grabbing a 33-30 lead when Gasol was fouled on a layup and converted a 3-point play.

Gasol made two free throws just before the half to give Spain a 40-38 lead at the break.

A brawl nearly broke out in early in the second half after Argentina’s Fabricio Oberto was elbowed in the face underneath the basket by a Spanish player. The teams started jawing and pushing before the officials interceded, calling a double foul on Argentina’s Pepe Sanchez and Carlos Jimenez.

Luis Scola made a beautiful move underneath the basket for Argentina with just over five minutes left in the third quarter, knifing between several opponents before scoring with a hanging layup high off the glass. Scola was fouled on the play, but missed the free throw.

Spain took a 60-56 lead into the fourth quarter, and increased the margin to 65-56 when Fernandez and Gasol teamed up on a beautiful give-and-go play with 7:35 left.

Gasol hit Fernandez with a pass near the free-throw line, then spun and moved toward the hoop, where Fernandez returned the ball to him for an easy layup.

Trailing 67-64, Argentina had a chance to cut the lead to one point when Nocioni drove to the basket with just over five minutes to go, but Gasol rejected his shot.

Spain got a break with 3:25 left when it led 69-64 after Gasol corralled a rebound and in the process smashed Nocioni in the face. Incredibly, Nocioni was called for the foul.

Ginobili then cut the deficit to two points on a rainbow 3-pointer with 2:53 left, and after Carlos Jimenez committed an offensive foul, Argentina looked like it might be in business. However, Ginobili put up an air ball on the ensuing position, and Spain’s Juan Carlos Navarro scored on a short jumper to make it 71-67.

Ginobili tried a long 3-pointer that ended up being another air ball, and Gasol was fouled and converted both shots to put Spain ahead 73-67 with 1:36 to go.

But Argentina wouldn’t go quietly, as Sanchez responded by draining a 3-pointer to make it 73-70.