When Venezuela defeated Canada in a nail-biting semifinal of 2015 FIBA Americas Championship at Mexico City on Friday September 11, 2015, they confirmed their place in 2016 Rio Olympic Games. On the same day, Argentina also qualified by defeating hosts Mexico in the other semifinal. Therefore, as far as Rio Olympic qualification was concerned, the final game on the following day got reduced to a formality. However, Venezuela still had a task in hand. When the two finalists met on Saturday for the last match of FIBA Americas Championship, Venezuela placed an icing on their Olympic qualification cake by winning their first ever FIBA America title by shocking the 2004 Athens Olympic gold medalist Argentina.
Venezuela played marvelous basketball in their last two matches of FIBA Americas Championship at Mexico City. In a thrilling semifinal on September 11, the Venezuelans edged out Canada 79-78. The victory sealed Venezuela’s Rio 2016 spot. It was one of the closest games in international basketball, where Venezuela fought hard with their minds firmly focused on the Olympic berth for the second time after 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Though Canada took the early lead, Venezuela nullified through Graterol and finished the first quarter at 20-19. However Canada snatched the lead once again in the second quarter with a 5-0 score in just 30 seconds as the next quarter got underway. Then Graterol scored 11 points in 15 minutes to reverse the lead for Venezuela at 31-29. But Canada’s Olynik struck once again to make the score 37-31 in favor of the Canadians. Regardless, Venezuela kept fighting and with a three-pointer from Guillent, once again reversed the lead with first half ending in Venezuela’s favor at 38-37. In the third quarter, Venezuela dominated ball possession and helped by Graterol and Cox, they forked out a 60-58 score before the last quarter. Within 3 minutes of the last quarter, the scores were tied at 64-64. Very soon, Canada went into a huge 75-68 lead. However, two triples from Guillent and a great recovery from Gregory Vargas allowed a 76-75 lead for Venezuela as the contest entered the final minute. With 24 seconds left, the score was tied at 78-78 and Venezuela had their chance. Guillent had a go but missed but on the rebound Gregory Vargas drew a foul from a Canadian and went to the line. He scored on first attempt and deliberately missed the second as the buzzer sounded. Venezuela emerged victorious and snatched the Rio Olympic berth.
In the second semifinal, Argentina defeated Mexico by 78-70. It was a game in which Argentina broke Mexico’s defense in the last quarter. Luis Scola scored 18 points and with 1292 points, became the leading scorer in the history of the FIBA Americas Championship. The Argentina also qualified for Rio 2016. The first quarter, when Argentina led 17-12, Mexico reacted with a 14-3 run and closed the quarter at 26-25. Mexico once again negated the offense of the Argentines and despite Luis Scola’s 8-2 run,led 40-35 at halftime. At the start of third quarter, Mexico consolidated their lead further before strikes from Argentina’s Campazzo and Nocioni, the gap was closed to 45-46. But Mexico still had the response from a three-pointer by Hernandez and attacks from Toscano as they went up to 54-47. Argentina also fought through Sergio Hernandez, Selem Safar, Nicolas Laprovittola and Nocioni to end the quarter at 62-62. In the last quarter, the contest turned into a gigantic battle but Argentina found ways to restrict the Mexicans. Safar scored another bomb from long range and Luis Scola came up with consecutive points. In the end, Argentina defeat Mexico 78-70 and booked their Rio Olympic berth.
With both Venezuela and Argentina having confirmed their Olympic entries, the final on Saturday was played for championship honors. For Venezuela, it was history, when they defeated Argentina 76-71 to win the FIBA Americas Championship for the first time. Venezuela played with fortified defense and indulged in intelligent offense from time to time. The start of the first quarter belonged to Argentina as they built an 11-0 lead and continued to maintain it by good work from Luis Scola, who was earlier honored as championship’s all-time lead scorer. Semifinal hero Graterol looked out of sorts by his three-pointer helped Venezuela to cut the deficit to 20-13 at the end of the first quarter. As the second quarter began, Venezuelans fought hard to narrow the margin to 20-19. Graterol found his rhythm at the right moment and his strides resulted in Venezuela leading for the first time in the match. Venezuela finished at 30-28 ust before the third quarter. Venezuela carried the momentum into the third quarter with an initial 4-0 run and they led 34-28. Argentina were restricted and free-scoring became difficult. They converted only 1 out of 11 three-pointers and scored just 8 points in 14 minutes. However, Nocioni and Nicola Laprovittola kept Argentina within striking distance and a Scola basket regained the 52-49 lead for Argentina before the fourth quarter. As the last quarter began, Venezuela reclaimed the lead in the first three minutes. As minutes ticked by, the game acquired the nature of a basketball classic as Selem Safar converted a four-point play to edge Argentina back in front, 58-57. But Venezuela didn’t lose heart and stepped up their defense and pulled away to a 63-58 lead. With 10 seconds left, Argentina reduced the deficit to within 2 points but a pair of free-throws from Dwight Lewis sealed the game for Venezuela, for whom the victory was a new chapter in the nation’s basketball history.