The very long career of Pau Gasol gives for all kinds of images, those of his exultant shout into the air of the Staples Center when he won his second ring against the Celtics in 2010, those of the initial jump with his brother Marc in the 2015 All Star or the of the hug with all the teammates who ran to the bench where he had to witness, injured, the victory against Greece in the final of the 2006 World Cup. That September 3 went down in basketball history and the setting was the Saitama Super Arena. The crossroads of the selection returns to the same scene. At dawn on Tuesday, August 3, at 6.40 a.m. Spanish time, Spain faces the United States in the quarterfinals, the rival that always deprived it of Olympic gold, its greatest challenge. And the match will once again be very special for that Pau Gasol who could not play that final in 2006, but was decisive in winning that legendary gold. At 41, he is in what may be the last game of his career, of course the last with the Spanish team. “All adversity is at the same time an opportunity, to achieve something incredible and unique that we have never achieved in other Games. It would be wonderful to be successful and to be in the fight for the medals again, “he says.
Spain will play against the United States with that double emotional burden, that of breaking down the wall that has always resisted it in the Games and that of giving Pau a victory, which would further delay his career and allow them to fight for another Olympic medal.
The merit of the Spanish team is that it was able to put in check the great teams that the United States recruited among the cream of the NBA to avoid triggers like the one in Athens in 2004. Spain was the one that came closest to victory against quintets in which NBA stars in their maximum splendor formed such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in the final of Beijing 2008 (118-107) or again Kobe and LeBron, in addition to James Harden, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook in London 2012 (107-100). There the image of maximum respect of the American stars towards a rival was produced. Just after the final, everyone went to the Spanish bench to greet Pau Gasol. Spain lost again in the semifinals of Rio 2016 (82-76), in the match with the most even score. But by game, the United States dominated the game more than on other occasions.
The first final that Spain played against the United States was in 1984. Those were other times. The distance between American basketball and the rest was abysmal, despite the fact that the American team still could not count NBA players and was made up of the best university students. Spain celebrated the Los Angeles silver medal as if it were gold. He lost the final 96-65 against the team led by Michael Jordan, which had just finished its time in North Carolina and, after being chosen number one in the draft, was going to start his career with the Chicago Bulls.
One of the most devastating images in Pau Gasol’s career is one in which he is seen on his knees on the OAKA court in Athens lamenting after losing to one of the most vulnerable teams in the United States. The game of the Spanish team had been magnificent and that was the only game they lost in those Games, the first for Pau, but it sent them to seventh place. Spain has twice beaten the United States in official competition matches. One was at the 1982 World Cup in Cali, 109-99, and the other in 2002, in Indianapolis, 81-75.
The United States team led by Gregg Popovich in Tokyo lost the first game to France 78-83. It was the US team’s first defeat in a 2004 Games. But after the setback against France, they overwhelmed Iran 120-66 and the Czech Republic 119-84. Before, in the last preparation match in Las Vegas, they beat Spain 83-76. His starting five is made up of Lillard, Booker, Holiday, Kevin Durant and Adebayo, and among the players coming off the bench are Middleton, Tatum, LaVine and Draymond Green. Sergio Scariolo emphasized the competitiveness that Spain has always shown, also in the match they lost to Slovenia on Sunday. “We have always fought them, we have stood up, we have always protected them. That is the objective and then, when you enter the last quarter, in the last four or five minutes there can be many variables ”, assures the coach. The party does not have half measures. If they win, Spain will once again be in the fight for the medals, as in Rio 2016 (bronze) and London 2012 and Beijing 2008 (silver); if he loses, he will be eliminated and the match will mean the dismissal of the best player in his history.
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