“Never too high, never too low” is the phrase most often repeated by the Spanish National Team.
Victories, until they really count, are relative. Defeats, too. It happened, because it is something natural, against the United States (88-98) in a game that measured the two best teams in the world, closed the “Torneo del Centenario” in Malaga, Spain, and is a message to those who doubt Spain’s chances in the upcoming FIBA Men’s World Cup.
It’s not London or Beijing. It’s a different game. But Spain made it to the end with a chance to take the game. Down by one in the last quarter. Ahead in a third that raised the level of players like Abrines or Nuez, who have much to say in the weeks leading to the World Cup.
Only Jalen Brunson’s great offense (he only missed three free throws) and Anthony Edwards’s stellar 4th quarter were able to put Spain away.
In the World Cup, the world champion badge will be taken away -if it indeed happens- with a lot of work.
Both teams delivered a showdown worthy of a final.
The United States came out with all guns blazing. Brunson was comfortable against Juan Nuez’s, scoring 10 points in the first quarter.
Jaren Jackson Jr. showed why he is the best defender in the NBA by delivering in the paint on both sides of the court. But the worst moments of the team’s 6-11 start were answered by the hard-working Hernangomez brothers.
Spain wanted to dance
The Spanish side showed improvement when Rudy Fernandez and Santi Aldama entered the game. The hosts started to find rhythm and the U.S. had to go to their bench to regain control of the match.
Jalen Brunson had a stellar first half and showed that the New York Knicks point guard will soon become an undisputable star in the NBA. Along with Edwards, he took control. From mid-range. Going inside. Distributing. He changed the pace and only Brizuela, a great agitator in the second quarter (six points), was able to stop the bleeding.
But Spain’s moment was not the best except for the intensity and presence of Juancho Hernangomez. He made the three-pointer to shorten Team USA’s lead 45-49, but Spain couldn’t turn on their offense.
Abrines shined in the third quarter
Spain was able to defuse the visiting side after a dazzling start after the half. Juan Nuez, giving reasons to be the starting point guard, set the pace and Alex Abrines went into the game hot.
A 9-0 run put the team back in the game, forcing the U.S. to continue depending on Brunson to keep the game alive. Aldama even gave Spain the score back in their favor 85-64 with two points at the 27th-minute mark.
They were back, and Rudy exemplified it with a triple to put Spain four up (68-64).
But the United States, again, was able to come back by strengthening its weaknesses: defense and transition. Reaves contributed on both ends, Banchero and Bridges signed passing hoops and had the advantage again in the best moment displayed by Spain.
The final quarter
It was game on, either way. Alberto Diaz closed the third quarter with a vital three-pointer to keep Spain close. The full last quarter was a 10-minute sprint.
But the United States has infinite depth to punish the slightest defect, such as a steal by Parra that did not come to fruition and could have tied the game or a reverse layup by Aldama that would be worth the two down. Bridges and Reaves made three-pointers alone and opened a six-point margin (82-88) that wasn’t going to get reversed.
Spain’s competitiveness was admirable but Anthony Edwards, with a tremendous dunk and free throws, broke Scariolo’s team and the U.S. didn’t look back.
The United States will now head to Abu Dhabi where they will hold another series of showcase games on-route to the FIBA World Cup.
Next up on their schedule is Greece, which they will face next Friday, August 18, followed by Germany on August Sunday, August 20 to close their preparation before their first game of the tournament in Manila, Philipines on August 26 against New Zealand.