The most exciting Olympic basketball contest thus far pitted a gritty Croatian side featuring NBAers Bojan Bogdanovic, Mario Hezonja and incoming rookie Dario Saric against an experienced but shorthanded Spanish squad.
Even without Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol on the roster, Spain were the prohibitive favorites to defeat Croatia in their Rio opener, and they appeared well on their way, up 12 with under three minutes left in the third. New Spur Pau Gasol (26 points, nine rebounds) and Nikola Mirotic (19 points, 4-of-8 from three) did the heavy lifting, but unfortunately they got little help, which became a bigger problem as Croatia's defense made stopping Pau a greater point of focus.
Still, Spain found themselves up two points with under 90 seconds left. That's when they followed up an offensive put-back by Croatia with a turnover on the ensuing possession (an errant pass by Sergio Rodriguez, who played 28 minutes to starter Ricky Rubio's 12), which became an easy transition lay-in for their opponents.
A Mirotic three and missed free throw by Saric still gave Spain a chance to tie on the game's last possession. With two seconds left, Gasol received a pass and made the only real move he could, turning and throwing up a baby hook that might've gone in, had it not been for the well-timed denial by the 22-year-old Saric:
It was a huge win for Croatia, and obviously a major letdown for Gasol (who became the fourth top scorer in Olympic hoops history), but Spurs fans should've been impressed with how the 36-year-old was able to produce, even when Spain's offense sputtered. He scored from all areas of the floor, including hitting three of his four three-point attempts, lending further credence to the idea that San Antonio's offense should be pretty dynamic with the Spaniard in the mix.
Granted, Spain's interior defense left a lot to be desired, but you can't hang that all on Pau, especially with key members of his frontcourt missing. And even when a solid defensive play didn't go his way, the Spaniard showed he's already a master of Tim Duncan face.
Pau Gasol disagrees. https://t.co/w7jzimPuaV— Josh Eberley (@JoshEberley) August 7, 2016
Spain next play hosts Brazil on Tuesday at 1:15pm EST.