Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Spain v. Lithuania, Group Play, August 31

What a game. Zach Harper on ESPN's DDL chat was calling this as a better game than Greece/Turkey. After watching it, I don't think any of us can argue. I feel like this game was straight out of the NCAA men's tourney. I mean, this had a college feel. The fans, the atmosphere, the basketball being displayed (hard driving, a lower level of skill than NBA, missed shots, disappearing superstars-Linas Kleiza, anyone?-, tough defense, and sheer grit. And the last-second finish. Great stuff.

Spain, as you may know, had a good lead in the first half, played like the Spain we're used to seeing, got lots of guys involved. Then, somewhere bridging the 3rd and 4th quarters, they fell apart, got tight, and then couldn't get in the game. First, let's give credit to Lithuania. They didn't get much from Kleiza, but guys like Jonas Maciulis and Martynas Pocious really picked it up, getting to the line and getting points when they needed it. Not that Kleiza was invisible: he really kept Lithuania in the game in the first half and in the second, Spain draped Garabajosa all over him and didn't let his defender help at all. The announcer (who was fantastic, I mean, Bill Walton-esque) said that he should have demanded the ball more, and he is right, but Spain really built their defense to stop him. He didn't really help spread the floor, but it is tough in FIBA play when Spain has enough size inside to rotate well on the other 4 guys when Kleiza's defender never leaves his side. So I'll give him a pass because they got the win.

Spain. Oh boy. The first team came out well in the first half. Lots of creative stuff. Even in the 3rd quarter, where they had leads of 18 and 16. And then coach Scariolo took his starters out like he should when he needs to rest his guys. And then the bench (Raul Lopez in particular) proceeded to clog the offense like a toilet, and let Lithuania back in the game piece by piece. And here is where Spain went wrong. Right when you're lead is under 10, you need to think like a college coach, call time, get a couple of your starters back in, and start running good stuff. I'll have to see it again, but it seemed like they were in full-on choke/panic/tight mode. What it seems like to these eyes, is the 2010 Spanish team has a disfunctional soul.

This is the problem: Rubio is a creator. Sure, he's good in the pick-and-roll. But he is a creator that needs a fluid system. Navarro is great isolated at the wing, and in the pick and roll. Gasol is good in the pick-and-roll, as well as in isolation. But the common denominator is the pick and roll. And that's what they ran when the starters came back in. This is the problem: with Lithuania started begging the Spanish perimeter players to shoot over the pick and took away the drive with tremendous help defense, you started seeing a lot of missed layups, guys standing around, not much action besides the pick and roll. So you have a team that wants to create, wants to involve a lot of guys, and only two are in the play. Or you have iso guys that can pass. And that's the other problem. Navarro is kind of Maggette like in that once he's driving, he's gonna shoot. Same with Marc Gasol: he's not the post passer that Pau is. And Rubio isn't a good enough shooter to kind of play off that. He wants to create, but the others are more individual. And when the going got tough, there was no unified strategy they could pursue to get solid points. No KBJ sky hook.

Can Spain get this figured out? Yes. They can get guys moving on the perimeter around the play, maybe gamble and get guys in for offensive boards. But it's harder than it looks, and who knows if they'll be around long enough to try.

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