Spain has been one of the most consistent forces in international basketball over the past two decades, and it ensured that run will continue with an 80-75 overtime triumph against France in Thursday's EuroBasket semifinal. With the win, Spain officially clinched a spot in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Three years removed from a quarterfinal loss to Spain at the 2012 London Olympics, France collapsed down the stretch as the victors rode the production of Chicago Bulls big man Pau Gasol to a come-from-behind victory.
Gasol totaled 40 points (12-of-21 shooting), 11 rebounds and three blocks as Spain captured a berth in a fifth straight Olympics. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that streak is the longest in the country's history.
With Spain trailing by eight entering the fourth quarter following a 23-16 France outburst in the third, Gasol cranked up the intensity. Spain went on to tie France by outscoring Les Bleus, 18-10, in the fourth quarter, with an off-the-dribble bounce from Gasol providing a major spark in the waning moments of regulation.
As Synergy Sports Tech explained, Gasol has been scorching-hot from seemingly every spot on the floor en route to clinching a berth in the EuroBasket final:
Sergio Rodriguez dropped 15 points, but he was the only other Spanish player to finish in double figures. Rudy Fernandez, Sergio Llull and Nikola Mirotic chipped in seven points apiece as Spain shot just 38.2 percent from the field and 19 percent from three.
Bleacher Report's David Pick noted Spain's victory was particularly impressive given how much top-flight talent was missing:
"Being in the semifinals with so many main players out is a great, great accomplishment," Spain head coach Sergio Scariolo said prior to Thursday's win, according to FIBA.com. "But we don't want to see it as a goal achieved. We want to keep going. Until an opponent overcomes us, we will be there."
France admittedly looked like the stronger side for the majority of Thursday's clash, but offensive lethargy prevented Les Bleus from keeping pace with a Spanish side that outscored the French, 32-19, during the fourth quarter and overtime.
Nicolas Batum and Nando De Colo led the way for France with 14 points apiece, but the Charlotte Hornets swingman missed three free throws trailing by three with 15 seconds remaining in overtime that iced the win for Spain.
Center Rudy Gobert was the star of the show for France, as he tallied eight points, 13 rebounds and two blocks, including an emphatic rejection of Mirotic in the second quarter:
However, Gobert apparently wasn't pleased with the officiating as it pertained to his matchup with Gasol:
Point guard Tony Parker continued to look shaky on the international hardwood, as he mustered 10 points on 4-of-17 shooting while dropping six dimes.
France will now be forced to wait close to a year before it determines its Olympic fate. By virtue of Thursday's loss, France advanced to next July's last-chance qualifiers, which will be comprised of six countries. Three sides from that tournament will round out the field of 12, which can be viewed here, courtesy of NBA.com's John Schuhmann.
With the win over France, Spain advanced to square off against the winner of Friday's semifinal between Serbia and Lithuania, which will be played in Lille, France, at 3 p.m. ET (NBA TV).
Regardless of which side moves on to the final, it will need to be wary of the multidimensional Gasol. With refined footwork, silky post moves and a steady jump shot, the five-time All-Star has emerged as a force to be reckoned with in advance of the 2015 NBA season.