Don't look now kiddies, but Equipo de Emanuel David Ginobili have been absolutely playing kickass balencesto for the last oh 83 minutes of international competition. It might have been easy - even tempting - to dismiss the team after their bummer loss to Lithuania, a team with 0 current NBA players no less, but they've rebounded to beat the snot out of the Kangaroos and the Croats.
All of a sudden the guys are whipping the ball around on passes and playing great team defense again. Croatia came into the game shooting lights out from three and Argentina never really game them any open looks from there. It was almost a Spurs-type defensive performance, minus the dirty fouls from Bowen (Yeah, I went there. Whatcha gonna do about it?). Even their fat, unathletic backup centers, Ramon Gonzalez and Leonardo Gutierrez, gave them some decent minutes off the bench. Their point guard Pablo Prigioni, who I was so down on after the first game, had his second straight decent game, running the team capably, playing very good defense, not forcing up any bad shots and basically giving it to Manu and getting the hell out of the way. Chapu was a monster all game and they got the required scoring from Scola in the first half (before he fell victim to the usual foul trouble) and Delfino in the second.
Really, Argentina's situation is very similar to that of the Spurs. They won in '04 not just because they had the three stars in Gino, Scola and Nocioni, but also because they were deep. Besides Fab and Delfino (who really wasn't a big player for them back then) they also had Pepe Sanchez running point masterfully so Manu didn't have to be the primary ball handler. As good as Sanchez played in '04, he was even better in the '06 World Championships, where he was probably the team's most consistent performer. He was knocking down like every open three in that tournament, and that one weakness - his shooting - had always been the reason it didn't work out for him in the NBA. Behind Sanchez they had Alejandro Montecchia, who wasn't much of a point, but he was a deadly spot up shooter, and he had 11 big points against the U.S. in the semi-finals. Also, they had Walter Hermann as the backup forward, an energy guy who could score inside and out, like Nocioni, plus Ruben Wolkywski, who was basically the Argentine Bill Laimbeer, a big banger inside who had a surprisingly smooth stroke from 20 feet.
It was a nine man team and that helped them a lot in not getting fatigued throughout the games and the tournament. Now, though, all four of those role players are gone, either because they're not happy with the coaching or other personal reasons. The problem is that for whatever reason Argentina has been unable to develop a next generation of players of quality to take their place. You would think a whole gaggle of teenagers would've been inspired by the performances of the '02 and '04 squads, but apparently they've all been watching Lionel Messi and Juan Pablo Riquelme. Not only has Argentina been unable to find the next Manu, they can't even find the next Hermann. That's sad.
Now look at the Spurs. Same deal. We've got the big three, and two of them are as good as ever. But the bench got real old real fast and the management has been either unwilling or unable to find their replacements. Just this offseason they've started to try a little bit (George Hill's game is eerily similar to Prigioni's) but probably not enough to make a difference. It's hard to fancy Argentina's chances against deep versatile teams like Spain or the U.S., no matter how well they've played these last two games, and I'm not sure what the Spurs will do against the Lakers, Rockets or Hornets next year after the way they've improved their rosters.
One thing is for certain: In a perfect world China would beat Germany in their next game and that way Greece can take a dive and lose to China in their last group game. That would let China finish 3-2 for 3rd place in Group A and Greece finish 2-3 for 4th place. That would mean in the second round China would get 4-1 Argentina and Greece would get 5-0 Lithuania (again, I repeat, a team of 0 NBAers).
This would be ideal for everyone and certainly for my household. As it stands now I fear Greece will finish 3-2 for 3rd place and will almost certainly face Argentina in the 2nd round, putting me in the uncomfortable position of rooting against Manolis when my home country isn't even involved. I'd rather that not happen.
Anywho, today's game was only Part I of Stampler's awesome Thursday sportapalooza, as you're no doubt aware that my Iggles are playing their second preseason game against Carolina tonight, on Fox! Be there or be ... somewhere else?