Welp, forget everything I said about Spain leading up to this FIBA World Cup, because they are now of no concern to Team USA (or France, Lithuania and Serbia, for that matter). After plowing through pool play and its Round of 16 opponent, the Spaniards went up against a Tony Parker-less France squad and lost. We’ll get to what this means for Team USA in a second, but let’s focus on Spain. It’s hard to put into words how devastating a loss this is for them. Aside from winning World Championship gold in 2006, the Pau Gasol Era (even in 2006, Pau was rooting from the sidelines with a broken foot) has been heartbreak city. Dating back to a knockout stage loss to Team USA in the 2004 Olympics (a really bad loss considering everyone was beating Team USA back then), Spain has endured two close Olympic gold medal losses to Team USA, and a poor showing at the 2010 FIBA World Championship, which Pau also sat out.
This one, however, is by far the worst of them all.
In an earlier post, I mentioned how Brazil’s FIBA World Cup run ended in similar fashion Brazil’s soccer team in the FIFA World Cup. But that was based on score only. This, on many levels, is actually much closer to Brazil shitting the bed in FIFA. This tournament was set up for Spain to win. They were finally healthy, featuring a seasoned big man trio of Pau, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, who’d finally figured out his role on the team. While they didn’t have a whole lot of size on the perimeter, they still had NBA-caliber guards in Ricky Rubio, Juan-Carlos Novarro and Jose Calderon. Meanwhile, over on Team USA, Kevin Love and Kevin Durant bailed, while Paul George, well, you know. Plus, this thing was being played in Spain. The final is in Madrid. It’d have been the most hostile anti-American crowd since I don’t even know when. It’s been reported that Pau was only participating because it was taking place in his home country. Sure, the final score of 63-52 isn’t the basketball equivalent of 7-1 in soccer, but putting up only 52 points in front of your home crowd is a rough way to go out.
As for Team USA, after what transpired today, we can’t assume any remaining game is a gimme. But Spain’s loss certainly presents a far more favorable road to gold. They play Lithuania on Thursday in the first semifinal, and if everything goes according to plan, will await the winner of Serbia-France on Friday. The final is on Sunday, and with a far less hostile crowd to deal with, no matter who they may end up playing will be an easier task than even the 2010 final, which they had to play against Turkey in Istanbul. for now, all we can say is take care of business and don’t look ahead.