Yesterday marked an important game for the Tournament proper for the EuroBasket 2013 championships. If Spain won, they guaranteed themselves a spot in the single-elimination tournament that will begin 2 games from now.
Spain did win. Handily. Convincingly. Brutally.
The game was not close, to the extent that it was not really fun to watch before the first quarter was even over. Spain was in the 40’s before Poland had even scored 15. Seriously. They held that 35+ point lead for the rest of the game. The score at one point was 23-3. Spain had 23 before Poland had made more than one shot. Process that for a moment. Spain had 23 points and Poland had only hit a single field goal.
This felt like Spain’s coming-out game for the tournament. They’ve played well before, and they’ve certainly even manhandled opponents before (and they’ve lost, too), but this was the first game where Spain actually played up to their potential. The whole team was clicking and effective, and everyone was finally playing cohesively to their strengths.
Jose Calderon had 3 three pointers and 4 assists, per his strength as a smart perimeter point guard and shooter. Ricky Rubio had 5 very pretty assists and plenty of layups for 15 points (and a 3 pointer!!). Marc Gasol had a hyper-efficient 15 points on 75% shooting, with 6 rebounds, as he bullied an aging Marcin Gortat primarily in the low post. Though, he did have 2 mid range jumpers, and a 3 pointer (!!). Rudy Fernandez had 13 points on a great 67% shooting for the typically off the dribble shooter.
On the other side, Poland didn’t score until Spain stopped caring enough to stop them. Remember, Spain scored almost 40 points before Poland even scored 10.
The issue wasn’t even entirely Spain’s defense. Poland shot a really horrific 33%, but that’s not nearly bad enough to account for the huge disparity in score. What really killed Poland was turnovers: Poland turned the ball over 21 times to Spain’s 8. 21 is really bad even for the relatively high pace, reckless-with-the-ball NBA, and 8 is particularly good. The end result, though, is that for a truly crippling percentage of possessions, Poland turned the ball over. Even on the too-rare occasions they did get a shot up, it missed 2 out of every 3 times.
Poland’s starting combo guard Lukasz Koszarek was the primary culprit; turning the ball over 6 times, by himself, in only 24 minutes.
In many ways, the story of this game is less how well Spain played, but how poorly Poland played.
Spain did play incredibly well, though. You don’t beat a team by 36, and have been up by even more than that, without having played incredibly well. It just so happens that Poland was also laughably bad.
Gasol was in prime form last night. His floor spacing offensively was as impeccable on offense as on defense — which happens from time to time, but is still pretty rare. He was hitting post hooks and jumpers, and in general, he left Poland frustrated and scrambling, which made his high-post facilitation that much more effective.
As smoothly as Gasol kept Spain running, though, Ricky Rubio was the story of the game. He was hitting jumpers, which completely changed defenses, and the way that they understood Spain’s game. Less than they were running the ball through Gasol on the high post, Spain was running the ball through Rubio on inside-outs. Because he was making shots, defenders were closing out, and Rubio would beat them on the dribble to get inside.
Rubio is a decent finisher around the basket, but he’s a savant at the inside-out pass, and the scrambled Polish defense never knew how to recover when Rubio made the extra pass from the inside to Gasol on the elbow, or to Rudy Fernandez on the wing. Rubio’s inside game made Spain an instant threat from every spot on the floor, and Poland stood helpless and watched as they got eaten alive.
Spain has two more games to play before the tournament proper, and they are currently seeded as first in their division.
Here’s the box score for the game, and a highlights video. See you next game!