Marco Belinelli and Italy faced off against a star-filled Spain team in one of the final games of the second round of Eurobasket. Both teams had already qualified for the quarterfinals, so this game didn't hold any significance aside from seeding and pride, much like the France-Serbia game the day before. Italy won 86-81 in an overtime thriller.
The first half was a game of runs with Italy drawing first blood. Winning the first quarter 24-12, Italy had everything going in their favor, including 4-5 shooting from three. Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, and Sergio Rodriguez were ineffective in the first quarter, largely due to the defensive efforts of Marco Cusin. Anytime Gasol had a good post look, Cusin was there to make it difficult, and anytime one of Spain's guards had a chance at an easy layup, Cusin was there to pummel the ball away. But as the second quarter came around Cusin and Luigi Datome were in serious foul trouble (two and three fouls respectively) and Belinelli needed a rest after playing almost the entire first quarter, which spurred a huge Spanish run. Without their two stars in Belinelli in Datome, Italy could barely get up a single shot attempt, as they threw multiple errant passes and appeared as if they had forgotten all of their offensive sets. It was ugly and led to a 12-0 run to start the quarter. They traded baskets for the rest of the quarter, and headed into intermission tied at 37.
It looked as if the turning point of the game would be another long span in the third quarter, where Italy literally couldn't make a single shot. Over a seven minute and five second duration, Spain largely used a zone to completely disrupt any offense Italy could generate. Whenever Belinelli or Datome got the ball, they were immediately double-teamed, and forced to give the ball to their not-so-offensively-competent teammates. During this stretch, Italy went 0-11 from the floor and had three turnovers. When Spain wasn't running their zone in the third quarter, Belinelli had four wide, and I mean WIDE, open threes that all missed. It was just that kind of quarter for Italy, and while it felt like Spain was up by 20, they only had an 11 point lead heading into the fourth.
Italy had a miraculous turnaround in the fourth quarter, largely due to the play of the role players in Cinciarini, Aradori, and Gentile. Ironically, these three were part of the not-so-offensively competent players in the third quarter. They consistently pushed the ball up the floor on makes and misses, and made life for the Spaniards very uncomfortable. Near the end of regulation, Italy drew up a play for Datome in the final seconds, where he made an easy layup to send the game into overtime. With all momentum and the crowd in their favor, Italy was able to cruise to victory.
The big star in this game was Marc Gasol, who had a huge 32 point, 10 rebound night. For whatever reason, Gasol hadn't been performing up to his talent prior to this game, averaging a measly 11.1 points and 7.7 boards in the tournament. However, the 7'1 center was simply too big and bulky for Italy to handle, especially in the second half when he was knocking down threes, making dunks, and showing off some nice post moves. After knocking down a long two, the announcers said, "Gasol is like the big bully in school." It's true - Gasol is a bulky guy that pushes people around in the paint, but I don't think enough can be said about how much of a class act Marc is. He accidentally hit Cusin twice in the first quarter, and Marc made sure to check that Cusin was okay each time. And of course, let's not forget about Game 4 of the Spurs-Grizzlies series, where he committed the classiest act I've ever seen on a basketball court. The top players in professional sports often forget about class nowadays, and not enough can be said about the respect such a talented player like Gasol gives to everyone on the court.
Speaking of talented players, Marco Belinelli looked quite good. Despite often being double-teamed, time and again Belinelli created shots for his teammates, and himself, with fantastic court vision. Prior to Datome's shot to send the game into overtime, Belinelli used his dribble to create an easy layup with only a few seconds left in the game that just rimmed out (which Italy's backup big, Nicolo Melli, may have actually knocked out of the basket). Along with his 16 points, Belinelli had eight boards and did a fantastic job of giving some help to Cusin and the backup bigs when Gasol posted them up. While Belinelli's shot creation and passing ability have been well documented, I find that what sets him apart from Gary Neal is his defense. Belinelli knows when he should provide help or stick to his man, and he boxes out very well for a guard. On one occasion, he even boxed out Marc Gasol, something that the Spurs never would have been able to ask out of Neal.