Spain basketball teams sneaks past China

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After trailing by 15 points, Pau Gasol leads surge that forces extra time win.

13 August 2008

MADRID - So many Spaniards logged onto Televisión Española's website to follow Spain's dramatic overtime win against China in the Beijing Olympics group stage Tuesday that the public TV station's online server collapsed.

The sudden meltdown caused by 100,000 hits registered in the game's final quarter - which Spain started down 14 points (61-47) - led the television channel's web directors to implement new measures to prevent future incidents.

It is a strategy that could also be useful for the nation's basketball team, which was not expecting to find such a fierce rival in the host team and whose lapse in the first three quarters almost ended in a crushing upset.

That the final marker read 85-75 does not reflect how China stunned Spain over three quarters, with a lead of 15 points at one stage. It was not until China stopped shooting and Spain found its groove in the final quarter that the 2007 European runner-up and 2006 World champion looked like a true Olympic favourite.

After the win, Spain's new coach Aíto García Reneses criticised his team for "thinking that the game was won before playing it."

"We started very poorly because we got carried away after having beaten Greece in the first game and seeing China lose to the United States. We thought we had won. We took the court without intensity and that lasted the entire first part," he explained.

While the first quarter ended in a near heat, China, helped along by a trio of three-pointers including two by Zhu Fangyu, netted 28 points to Spain's 17 in the second quarter to close the half leading 46-37.

The Chinese surprise came largely thanks to the team's success in closing down Spain's forwards, and in the latter's poor second choices on offense. Atypically for such an experienced side, Spain saw a good deal of individual showboating and recklessness with the ball.

Starting the final quarter down 14 points, it was largely thanks to a downturn in China's shooting percentages coupled with Pau Gasol's surge of intensity and the defensive prowess of point guard Ricky Rubio that allowed Spain to dig itself out of the rut.

Pau's younger brother Marc Gasol tied the game at 72 in the final minute, which was followed by a steal by the 17-year-old Rubio, famed for his quick hands. The point guard ended up taking Spain's final regulation shot, which hit the rim and bounced out, sending the game to overtime.

It was in the added minutes that the elder Gasol, game high-scorer with 29 points and eight rebounds, delivered the performance that kept Spain undefeated in the group B preliminary round.

The NBA forward scored nine of Spain's 11 overtime points.

Spain was also helped along after Houston Rockets centre Yao Ming fouled out in overtime with China down by four. The host team scored only one point the rest of the way.

"It's an important win, without a doubt, Pau Gasol explained.”Perhaps we didn't expect the game would be so hard to win, but now we know we cannot relax, not even for a minute, and to respect all of our rivals with even more humility."

His teammate Rudy Fernández, who contributed 21 points, eight rebounds and six assists to the Spanish effort, admitted that it was "a difficult game, especially in the first part".

"China was in the zone in this game. In the third and last quarter, we defended better, and started causing them some problems. But they made it very hard for us and they didn't let us play our game. But, in the end, with more pressure, they didn't know how to attack," the guard added.

Rubio concurred that the effort was not Spain's best: "We can't be fully satisfied because we played a bad first half where our defence was bad, we lost a lot of easy balls and our shots kept hitting the rim."

Few doubt Spain will take the court with more intensity when it faces Germany on Thursday.

[El Pais / K. Ramundo / Expatica]

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