In Madrid on Thursday, USA blew out Lithuania 96-68 and made an expected entry into the final of FIBA’s first Basketball World Cup. For the championship match on Sunday, USA will face either France or Serbia, the two teams, which emerged as surprising victors in two quarterfinal games on Wednesday. In a stunningly shocking result at Madrid, Spain made an unceremonious exit after a determined France destroyed their World Cup ambitions. Spain had looked as the only team, capable of unseating defending champions USA as they had progressed in a dominant style by generally outplaying their opponents and authoritatively registering six straight victories, before their match against France. In the Group phase, Spain had beaten France by 24 points and therefore their disastrous 65-52 loss to France was difficult to comprehend. For home fans at Madrid, it was so disappointing that many of them vacated their seats and began the march out of the stadium, even as the fourth quarter was still in progress. In another match on the same night, Serbia caused another upset by steamrolling Brazil 84-56 to prove that Group phase performance did not have any bearing of a team’s true capability.
In the last few international fixtures, USA and Spain have been the finalists, including the last two Olympic Games and FIBA’s 2010 international championship and they wanted to reverse the trend at home. After their superb performance in the first six games, Spain were a runaway favorite against France in the quarterfinal. The only hurdle for Spain, if any, was psychological, as it was France, who had ruined Spain’s party for the title of European Championship for the second consecutive summer. Possibly, France used that as benchmark and to everyone’s great surprise, they displayed improved defensive tactics and even better reflexes to score on rebounds. France began with restricting their more favorite opponents straightaway and the first quarter ended at 15-15. In the first three minutes, while France scored 8 points, Spain drew blank by missing everything. Rudy Fernandez and Ricky Rubio both missed 3-pointers and Pau and Marc Gasol missed easy jumpers on their turns. By the middle of first quarter, Spain had scored only 2 points to France’s 11. Later, however, the Spaniards somehow drew the first quarter 15-15. In the second, France proved their tenacity further by opening a 7-point lead and finished the period with 20-13. As the third quarter began, Pau Gasol led a 12-4 run to put Spain ahead briefly yet again at 40-39 but the spark was clearly missing from Spain’s play as they ended the third quarter with a marginal 1-point lead at 43-42. Boris Diaw scored a crucial 3-pointer to help France take a 51-45 lead and forced Spanish coach Juan Orenga to call time-out with 6:41 remaining. In a beehive of activities in the later part of the last quarter, a jumper by Pau brought Spain to within three points but Frenchman Thomas Heurtel scored five points to push Spain on the brink again. The disappointing end was not far away as Spain could not score a single point in the last 120 seconds in contrast to France’s 10 that widened their lead and France won the match 65-52. For France, Boris Diaw scored 15 and Thomas Heurtel added another 13. But France scored 50 from rebounds against Spain’s 28. The 34-year old 7-ft tall Pau scored 17 for Spain but his brother Marc and others had a bad day.
In the second match, Serbia upset Brazil in a reversal of their loss in group stage. Like Spain, Brazil’s star players proved ineffective in the crunch game. The trio of Varejao, Nene and Splitter couldn’t support Brazil as Serbia took a five-point halftime advantage. The Serbs continued their dominance in the third quarter as they ransacked Brazil’s defenses to enhance their quarter lead by 19 points. Serbia continued the same way in the last quarter and finished the match 84-56 in a truly dominating display. For Serbia, Milos Teodosic scored 23 points with three 3-pointers, and four assists. Bogdan Bogdanovic added 12 points and Miroslav Raduljica and Nenad Krstic added 10 points each. For Brazil Varejao and Vieira scored 12 points each. Serbia will take on France on Friday to earn a place for Sunday’s gold medal match against USA, who defeated Lithuania 96-68 in the first semifinal on Thursday.
The USA-Lithuania match was a story completed by Americans in second and third quarters with Lithuania fighting closely in first and fourth. USA had a slow first quarter start with Harden and Curry committing early fouls but Lithuania could not capitalize. For the second game running, Harden failed to score in the first quarter. Regardless, Klay Thompson’s defense and his ability to score from anywhere helped team USA to a 43-35 halftime lead. In the second quarter, helped by a reasonably good run, the 8-point lead jumped to 20 but it was the third quarter, where the US dominance was on full display as the forceful Americans overran the Lithuanians with James Harden scoring 16. The third-quarter surge was so effective that Lithuania entered the fourth with a 25-point deficit that continued almost until the end with the Americans cruising to an easy 96-68 victory. Kyrie Irving topped the scoring with 18 points, Harden 16, Thompson 16, Curry 13 and Faried scored 9. USA led in each quarter and did not allow the Lithuanians many scoring opportunities.
While USA goes to claim another international basketball gold on Sunday, Lithuania will try to win their game against winners between Serbia and France for the World Cup bronze.