The quarterfinals are over and the semis await. Argentina beat Brazil and will face Team USA, which as expected, beat Australia 119 - 86. Spain was too much for France (66 - 59) and will meet Russia (83 - 74 over Lithuania) on the other side of the bracket to determine who advances to the Gold Medal round and who fights for Bronze. A recap of Argentina - Brazil, plus some updates on the Spurs on the Olympics after the jump.
Argentina 82 - Brazil 77 Recap
The first quarter was defined by the different approach both teams took, playing to their strengths. Argentina chose not to go big, maintaining the usual starting lineup, with Nocioni at the 4 guarding Anderson Varejao. The idea was to have the floor well spaced and take advantage of Varejao on the perimeter. The Argentine forward scored 5 points in the first off a 3 and a drive and the match-up seemed to worked on Argentina's favor. On the other end, though, Varejao pulled down and tapped offensive boards, keeping possessions alive. With Varejao away from the paint, Tiago Splitter couldn't crowd Luis Scola on the baseline, and the former Rocket punished him with a couple of mid-range shots. For Brazil, Huertas suddenly found his stroke from deep, hitting several 3-pointers and keeping the Brazilians in it.
On the second quarter Argentina went big, with Juan Gutierrez on Nene, trying to protect Scola from committing his 3rd foul. In the past, that type of lineup would stagnate the Argentine offense, but thanks to Prigioni, Ginobili and especially Delfino (14 first half points), Argentina mustered enough scoring to start the quarter. With Argentina initially doing a good job of stopping the pick and roll and forcing Huertas to be a shooter (17 first half points), Brazil started to run a bigger part of their offense through Splitter in the post, where Tiago displayed his passing ability on beautiful feeds to cutters Nene and Huertas. Unfortunately, Leandrinho was on the bench with 2 fouls and Nene was being thoroughly outplayed by Juan Gutierrez (I never thought I would write that last sentence), which allowed the Argentines to seize the moment and take the lead, which they wouldn't relinquish from there on out.
The 3rd quarter saw Argentina continue to execute well, especially on their own side of the court. The help defense was fantastic, whenever Brazil tried to isolate Splitter on Scola in the post, and the rotations were crisp. Prigioni disturbed every attempt to penetrate, forcing turnovers with timely swipes at the ball, while Nocioni had a beautiful block after a nice Tiago Splitter up-and-under move. Veteran teams like this Argentina squad can smell blood in the water and know when to attack. The guards started finding Scola near the basket after breaking down the perimeter defense, and Manu worked his magic. Brazil went away from Huertas to favor a Barbosa and Nene-led offense that could not hurt the reinvigorated Argentina. Brazil went down 10 and both teams slowed down on offense for a couple of minutes, until the Argentine reserves, led by Campazzo and Juan Gutierrez, continued the run to put Argentina up 15. After watching their offense devolve into a one-on-one, terrible spacing nightmare, the Brazilians closed the quarter well and finished the 3rd trailing by 10.
The sole bright spot of the Brazilian offense to begin the 4th was Splitter drawing fouls and assisting off offensive boards. Unfortunately, Tiago couldn't hit his free throws (to be fair, both teams shot horribly from the line), but both his help defense and his work on Scola made Ruben Magnano stick with Tiago for the first half of the quarter. Brazil stepped up on defense and went on a run. With 4 minutes to go, they got the lead down to 2, but a Prigioni goaltended layup and a terrific charge drawn by Manu on a fast-break stopped the bleeding. After that, a heavily contested layup by Nocioni put Argentina up by 6 with 2:27 to go. After breaking Nocioni's ankles, Barbosa cut it down to 3, but Huertas missed an off-balance 3 the next trip down the court.
On the next play, Ginobili (who has not missed a free throw all tournament) was fouled and extended the lead to 5 with 52 seconds to go. Huertas missed a contested layup, and Ginobili tipped what seemed an easy offensive rebound for Nene. Scola caught it and was fouled. After the two makes Argentina led by 7 with well under a minute go. A few free throws and made Barbosa 3s later, Argentina had advance to the Olympic semifinals for the 3rd consecutive time.
How did Manu play?
Manu didn't shine in this grind-it-out battle but he still was one of the most important players for Argentina, only second to Nocioni in overall impact. He scored when the team needed him to (16 points) and continued doing an amazing job on the boards (8 rebounds). For Argentina to have a shot at a medal, Manu will have to play a little better than he did today, but that's nitpicking after such a strong team performance.
How did Tiago play?
Tiago had moments where he seemed the best big on the floor even with Nene, Varejao or Scola there and other times where he was...ineffective, to put it kindly. The things that worried Spurs fans about Tiago after the OKC series still loom, as Splitter struggled to finish through contact and could not hit his free throws, shooting a really damaging 2 of 8. On the plus side, he did seemed aggressive on the post and received numerous fouls (6 in this game) when he decisively went to the hoop. His defense was, for the most part, fantastic. He contested shots, without losing rebounding position, and moved his feet well on the pick and roll. Tiago will have a couple of months to rest and start working on his game before training camp and I expect him to play a bigger role for the Spurs this coming season.
In the U.S - Australia game, Patty Mills scored 26 points and pulled down 6 boards. After an extremely slow start with a couple of extremely inefficient games, Mills got some vindication on the last 4 matches, putting together one of the best individual performance of the Games. There will be a post exploring what his Olympic exploits mean for the Spurs later this week, but for now let's just enjoy that one of our guys did well.
As I mentioned, Argentina will face Team USA on Friday. The winner will face the victor of the Russia - Spain match. For Argentina it's an honor to be in the semis, but anyone who has watched this team over the last 10 years knows that they wont go down without a fight. The U.S. is the clear favorite and I expect them to advance without much trouble; all I want from Argentina is for them to go down swinging.