Spain and Russia both came into this Group B showdown with the podium in mind, having each been undefeated at 3-0. With this game's winner having a free and clear shot at controlling its own destiny towards winning the group, we certainly got the level of intensity expected.
Spain came out firing early, alleviating any concerns left behind from the fourth-quarter onslaught they barely endured in their 79-78 win over Great Britain in their last game. It was 28-11 at the end of the first quarter, and Russia was clearly not ready at tipoff.
Fast-forward to the fourth quarter, and Russia had chipped away at Spain's early lead to enter the final frame with a stunning three-point lead. Spain's early dominance behind Pau and Marc Gasol had fizzled mainly due to some timely three-point shooting by Russia by Victor Khryapa, who finished 4-of-5 beyond the arc, and Vitaliy Fridzon's 24 points.
Spain didn't help their cause with their own horrific three-point shooting for the third straight game, shooting only 20 percent in this one. It was not for lack of effort, though.
Entering the fourth quarter, all the momentum was with Russia after overcoming such a large deficit, but Spain somehow found a way to take the lead back and stretch it all the way to nine at one point.
In the end Russia would not be denied, as they imposed their will over the final minutes and found themselves with a 75-73 lead with 5.3 seconds left and Spain's Pau Gasol on the line. After Gasol missed the first of two, he proceeded to sink the second even though Spain had no timeouts left.
A pair of free throws by Fridzon would ice the game, leaving Spain stunned and Russia 4-0 heading into their final Group B matchup vs. 1-2 Australia on Monday to seal Group B.
After the buzzer sounded, NBA analyst Chris Sheridan had this to say:
Wow. Tremendous comeback win for Russia over Spain. Pau Gasol missed crucial FT with 5 secs left. Russia trailed 20-2 early.— Chris Sheridan (@sheridanhoops) August 4, 2012
Sounds like Russia gained a fan in NBA analyst Sekou Smith too:
Record setting 3-point shooting aside, no team in this tournament is more fun to watch than Russia. They've got everything you need.— Sekou Smith (@SekouSmithNBA) August 4, 2012
Grades for Russian Players
Vitaliy Fridzon: A+
The 26-year-old guard was lights out for Russia. He led the team with 24 points, and more importantly he did it very economically, shooting 9-of-15 with a couple of threes and a perfect 4-of-4 from the charity stripe. He also finished with three assists and drew an all-important five fouls on the opposition as well.
Anton Ponkrashov: A+
Ponkrashov not only led his fellow Russians in minutes with over 37, but he also led his team to victory as its floor general. He finished with 11 assists and was as solid as it gets in crunch time with the ball.
Ponkrashov only turned the ball over twice all game, and when he wasn't dishing it to his teammates for timely buckets, he was filling it up himself. He finished 6-of-8 from the field with 14 points for an Olympic sized double-double for Russia's backcourt.
Grades for Spanish Players
Pau Gasol: B
Gasol was by no means the goat in this game for Spain. He finished with 20 points with an 8-of-13 game from the field. He was a solid 4-of-5 from the free-throw line, but in the end he missed the first of two free throws that would have tied the game with under six seconds left.
He also could have been a little more assertive on the boards, as he finished with only five rebounds in a game where Spain was out-rebounded by Russia.
Serge Ibaka: C-
Maybe by no fault of his own, as he only got a little over nine minutes of game time, Ibaka was a non-factor in this one. The defensive star known for his NBA game didn't find a way to contribute for Spain. In his nine-plus minutes he scored two points, grabbed three rebounds and didn't manage to block a shot. You would imagine a player of his defensive prowess could have been a game-changer during those big runs by Russia.