25 July, 2021
07 August
4 Pau Gasol (ESP)
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Day 8: A window into the beautiful madness to come over the final week

TOKYO (Japan) - We should lead you into this daily recap with a classic "it doesn't get any better than this," but after seeing the Quarter-Finals pairings, it does. It does get even better than this.

For more than two hours, the basketball world was glued to the screen watching the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 winner take on the FIBA EuroBasket 2017 champion. Over the last couple of years, Sergio Scariolo cemented Spain's status as the best defending team in the world, and if you re-watch the game against Slovenia from that perspective, you could see a lot of amazing things.

Sounds crazy after they allowed 95 points in a 95-87 defeat.

"That's almost 30 points less than their average. Not their average in the two games here, but in six games this whole summer," Spain head coach warned about observing Slovenia as a team with four more games played in Lithuania, at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

Slovenia have four more games together this summer. But Spain had a whole decade of unreal level of competitions and big games on their side, too. That's why their defense operated like clockwork as Scariolo ordered a box-and-one set with Victor Claver on Luka Doncic.

The plan was not just to let Claver die chasing Doncic around, but to also give the Slovenian superstar different looks. Once Doncic got used to Claver, Alex Abrines was the next man up. Then it was Alberto Abalde. And when Doncic figured them out, Scariolo played a joker card and put Usman Garuba on the point forward.

With the other four guys either in zone, or ready to help on Luka from any part of the floor, one-pass away or from the weak side, the Dallas Maverick could not dominate early on. In fact, the Spanish defense forced him to commit two charges and three fouls in the first quarter, and had the Slovenian coach park him on the bench for a large portion of the first half.

However, we tried to warn you. Slovenia are much more than just Luka Doncic.

"This is a good team. This is not only Doncic," Spain's playcaller Scariolo said of Doncic. "I am pleased about Luka, how he read the situation and reacted to it. He showed his class. His mental toughness. His competitiveness. His understanding of what was going on."

Doncic noted that the Spanish defensive plan and execution caught even the most stable of cerebral of players playing a bit off their back foot. 

"We didn't expect them to go box-and-one with me. Every time I played pick and roll, one or two extra players came too," Doncic noted.  "We adjusted to that during the game. We missed a lot of open shots, but we won the game and that's all that matters right now." 

Slovenian head coach Aleksander Sekulic emphasised that this effort displayed the team's completeness. 

"That shows that we have a great team. Somebody always stepped up," Sekulic said. "Luka was ready to find teammates, they were triple-teaming him, they were pressing him, but Luka always found a good solution. He created open shots for (his teammates), we had great ball movement and, fortunately, we made the open shots in the end, when it was most important." 

Doncic not scoring, but figuring out the defense had a reflection in the boxscore: 12 points, 14 rebounds, 9 assists. Just one assist short of the third triple-double in the Olympic history, after LeBron James in 2012 and Alexander Belov in 1976. He was close to the scoring record, he came close to a triple-double here. But the question remains,  does he even care about those numbers?


That got a loud laugh from the room as Doncic smiled. He had all the reason to smile because he still doesn't know what it's like to lose a game in the Slovenian jersey.

The part about Slovenia being a great team: Vlatko Cancar knocked down his high-arching three-pointers en route to a team-high 22 points. Klemen Prepelic - who also got a bit of box-and-one "love" from Sergio Llull when Doncic was on the bench - hit the go-ahead triple from the corner and followed it up with an alley-oop pass to Mike Tobey as the naturalized center was the man of the moment in the fourth quarter, finishing with 16 points and 14 rebounds.

He was drained. Still gasping for air and feeling the blood rushing through his legs after pushing two Gasols, Garuba and Willy Hernangomez for 33 minutes on the floor.

Tobey's alley-oop dunk that put Slovenia up three with 1:30 to play

"To be honest, a couple of months ago I didn't even know where Slovenia was," Tobey said. "Now, this is an unknown dream coming true, and I don't want to wake up." 

Slovenia won first place and were drawn against Germany in the Quarter-Finals. The winner of that one will play the better of France v Italy, forming an all-European part of the bracket.

As for Spain, they played a marvelous game. But here's the thing: it wasn't enough; they fell to 2-1, meaning to second spot in the group, meaning to the unseeded part of the draw, meaning they ended up in a Quarter-Final tie with the USA.

A rematch of the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Final, and the 2016 Semi-Final. There is only one day until that battle, but rest assured that the World Cup winners have a game plan ready.

Rudy Fernandez ready to chase Kevin Durant once again

"(Spain) is a team that's been legendary in the world of basketball for being able to compete throughout the years, regardless or players who were in, regardless the generations which were involved," Scariolo said. "We just have to keep being ourselves, keep our any identity, that's it." 

The winner of the USA v Spain matchup will play against either Australia or Argentina in the Semi-Finals. In a day full of Spain v Slovenia madness and the chaos of the draw for the Quarter-Finals, the fact that Argentina played their best game in the Saitama Super Arena may go under the radar.

They defeated Japan 97-77 to pick up the last ticket to the elite eight. The 20-point margin could've been higher; there were indicators that Facundo Campazzo came ready to play and guide his guys towards the knockout phase with 17 points, 11 assists and 7 rebounds. Two former Real Madrid teammates getting close to triple-doubles in a single day of the Olympics. 

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Facundo's favorite target for the day was none other than Luis Scola. In all honesty, not "for the day," more like "for a decade or so" because the 41-year-old still looks the same way like nine years ago, when Campazzo first played with him.

Scola ended the Group Stage as Argentina's top scorer. In his fifth Olympics, he averaged 19.6 points per game, while shooting 50 percent from the field.

"He is ridiculous. I don't think he stopped for a single day over the last 25 years. Even when the season ends, the next day he goes out to work with his personal basketball coach, personal physical trainer. He's got a basketball court in his house. He pushed us to amazing places over the last 20 years. He pushed me, too. I would never be here without Luis Scola. I love him. I love Luis Scola," coach Sergio Hernandez got emotional after the game.

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Displying all his humbleness, Scola talked to the media members with so much joy and enthusiasm, saying he doesn't feel old. Quite the contrary, Scola explained: his young teammates make him feel younger, feed him with a revived energy to keep going.

Being a basketball aficionado, Scola even spent a minute talking about Luka Doncic.

"I remember watching the (FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament) in Lithuania, and being happy that Slovenia won. Not because I thought they were going to be an easier opponent for us here, but because of Luka Doncic," Scola said. "Now I get to tell people, 'hey, I played against that guy' some time in the future.'"

Being happy about basketball. We know what you're talking about, Luis.

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