Pau Gasol and Spain will play in the Olympics in 2016. Credit the Spaniard for carrying his nation to the finish line. His country needed him and Gasol delivered with a 40 point, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks performance in the EuroBasket 2015 tournament that qualified Spain for the Olympic Games. That was the goal. But beating France in France, that was sweet payback.
The border clash game had it all: venom, passion, impromptu national anthem singing, tears and jubilation for both countries, a last second shot, complaints about the refs, and overtime. While one country left the court in ecstasy, the other walked away in sorrow, bitter at the loss. For Spain it was revenge. It was their singular opportunity to right a wrong and beat the host country and Tony Parker in an overtime game in France. It was Spain’s reversal of fortune.
Last year in the FIBA World Cup, Spain was the host country and lost in the quarterfinal round to France by 13 points. This year it was Spain who reminded the host country what it felt like to lose in front of their raucous countrymen. All because of Pau Gasol.
Gasol takes a lot of grief from NBA fans for not coming through when it matters but against France he made everyone remember why the Bulls went after Gasol in the first place. His skill is undeniable. He’s a seven footer with a sweet left hand, a dependable right hand, a jump hook. He is a shot blocker, agile in the lane and has a tough will to win. The knock on Gasol in his NBA career has been his defense and his penchant for injuries late in the season. But in France tonight, Gasol was dominant in every category. He tired late but then came on with a dunk to give Spain a three point lead with 18 seconds left in overtime. France missed free throws and that was that.
France had high hopes that rested on the shoulders of Tony Parker. But Parker had a dreadful performance. He couldn’t make shots and played passively. Late in the overtime, he missed two free throws. He didn’t do the Tony Parker thing American fans are used to. There were no Parker drives to the basket, no Parker floaters, no Parker in the lane mid range shots. Parker was happy enough to dish to Rudy Gobert and watch. And then there was Parker continually getting beaten on defense by Sergio Rodriguez who schooled Parker with drives to the rim.
Tony Parker has four championship rings and a NBA Finals MVP. Pau Gasol has two rings. There is an argument to be made that Parker has had the more consistent career. But Gasol is the greatest European player of his generation. In the overtime game against France, Gasol scored the last eight points. France’s Rudy Gobert fouled out making it much easier on Gasol without having to face a shot blocker.
While Gasol was feasting on France’s small lineup, Parker was blah. He missed thirteen shots, had six assists, looked out of rhythm from the start. His 10 points were mediocre and hardly mattered. If Parker wants a shot at a medal in Rio, he’s going to have to play a qualifying tournament in July just to get in. It will be a brutal basketball schedule particularly if the Spurs are in the NBA Finals in June.
But Gasol was the story. He’ll enter training camp in great shape and his confidence sky high for a Bulls team that will need a healthy Gasol not just in November but in the playoffs if they hope to knock the crown off the Cleveland Cavaliers.
photo via Wikipedia.org