SAITAMA — It seemed only fitting that when the public-address announcer called out the names of the players before Sunday’s FIBA World Championship final the first name he said was Pau Gasol’s.
| Spain’s Marc Gasol reacts after scoring against Greece during the FIBA World Championship final on
Sunday in Saitama. Spain won 70-47.
The big fellow was the biggest reason Spain had a chance to win its first world title.
Y ahora, Espana es numero uno en el mundo. (And now, Spain is No. 1 in the world.) It won its 18th straight game to complete the tournament.
Spain won it without Gasol on Sunday night, pulling away in the first quarter of a 70-47 victory over Greece before a packed house of 18,500 at Saitama Super Arena.
Gasol, who suffered a fractured metatarsal in his left foot in the closing minutes of his team’s 75-74 semifinal victory on Friday over Argentina, watched the game from the bench.
“It’s been a pretty amazing game, I think,” Gasol said. “My teammates have done an amazing, totally great job. They played with their heart.
“They played together as a group, as a unit, and it’s just fun to watch for me,” he said, adding his absence inspired his teammates to win it without him in the lineup.
“I thought I was going to suffer (watching from the bench), and I was so, so happy to see my team play the way they played, the way they responded.”
Jorge Garbajosa replaced him as the starting pivotman. Felipe Reyes got the nod at power forward, Garbajosa’s customary position.
As it ended, Spanish fans rejoiced in unison: Campeones, campeones, ole, ole, ole! (Champions, champions . . .).
Garbajosa and Juan Carlos “La Bomba” Navarro scored 20 points apiece. Reyes had 10.
Greece’s Mihalis Kakiouzis had a team-high 17 points and Theodoros Papaloukas had 10.
The James Naismith Trophy was presented to Gasol, the 212-cm center, during the awards ceremony. Generally, the captain is handed the trophy, but teammate/captain Carlos Jimenez deferred the honor to Gasol, who limped as he walked with the trophy held high above his head.
A nation celebrated together as the giant’s long arms lifted the hardware.
Gasol also earned the World Championship’s MVP trophy. He finished the tournament with 21.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game.
Saitama Super Arena on Sunday.
Jimenez and Garbajosa led Spain’s effort inside, grabbing 11 and 10 rebounds, respectively. Spain held a 42-34 edge on the glass.
In Friday’s semifinals, Greece pulled off a 101-95 win over the United States. Panagiotis Yannakis’ club never had the same start-to-finish focus, efficiency or energy in this game.
“We didn’t have the passion (today),” Yannakis said.
“Spain played the game with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of passion,” he added, noting Gasol’s absence only served to enhance his opponent’s concentration and drive.
The Greeks shot 33 percent from the field, including 38 from 2-point range (a game after a 71-percent effort on 2s).
Here’s another revealing statistic: The Greeks’ last lead of the game was 6-4.
Spain, which shot 12-for-30 from 3-point range, led by as many as 28 points in the final period. Greece was 5-for-21 on long-range shots.
As this game turned into a rout, waves of Greek fans were silenced and stunned. Greek players sat on the bench with somber looks on their faces, especially in the second half.
The Greeks trailed 54-34 entering the fourth quarter.
After a seesaw battle to start the contest, Spain took a 16-9 lead on back-to-back 3-pointers by Jose Calderon and Navarro with 2:13 left in the opening period.
Greece scored the quarter’s final points on Sofoklis Schortsanitis’ inside bucket, cutting it to 18-12.
The Spaniards didn’t back down, though. Garbajosa swished a 3-ball from the top of the arc and that made it 23-12 with 8:45 left before halftime.
Frustrated by his team’s lackluster play, Yannakis called a timeout.
Seconds later, Garbajosa nailed another triple. Then Navarro converted a pull-up jumper.
All told, it was a 10-0 run for Spain.
Dimos Dikoudis hit 1 of 2 from the line to end the Spaniards’ surge at the 6:42 mark and slashed the lead to 28-13. Papaloukas nailed a 3 and made it a 12-point game.
Spain used a 7-0 spurt to push its advantage to 35-16, getting another 3-point shot from Garbajosa, who will next compete for a spot on the Toronto Raptors, and consecutive inside buckets by Jimenez.
The Greeks, appearing a step or two slow defensively on most possessions, were outscored 25-11 in the second quarter. That put them in a 43-23 hole at halftime.
Spain shot 55 percent (17-for-31) in the first half, including 6-for-12 on 3-point attempts. Greece made 8 of 26 shots (31 percent).
Greece, winner of EuroBasket 2005, didn’t qualify for the 2002 World Championship in Indianapolis, which was won by Serbia and Montenegro.
IN THE PAINT: FIBA’s all-tournament team consisted of Gasol, Garbajosa and Team USA’s Carmelo Anthony in the frontcourt, and Argentina’s Manu Ginobili and Papaloukas in the backcourt. . . . Gasol’s injury could sideline him for up to three months. The Memphis Grizzlies center will likely miss the start of the NBA season.
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