I knew as soon as the GB-Spain game ended last night that I’d be writing about it as soon as I got back from work this morning. The thing is, now I’m here, I’m not sure how to feel about the game.
Obviously, there’s a massive amount of pride for a collection of players brought together from around the major and minor leagues of European basketball to back up an NBA superstar who, after a couple of years of being international afterthoughts and needing special dispensation just to take up a hosts’ place at the Olympics, scared the crap out of Spain last night. The absolute crap.
And yet, knowing now that the game was so close in the final seconds, there’s a good deal of frustration too.
A missed lay-up here, a botched in-bounds play there. One or two missed free throws, a few sloppy turnovers. That was the difference between the heart-breaking one-point loss to the world’s second best basketball nation, the only team who can hold a candle to the star-studded USA. And, in the final 7.1 seconds of the fourth quarter, needing to foul and send Spain back to the free-throw line once more to have a chance to tie on their next possession, GB seemed to switch off, leaving 7-footer Dan Clark to chase Spain guard Jose Calderon down and foul him. Clark was wrong-footed, Calderon sprinted back to his own corner and then evaded Drew Lawrence, and the final buzzer sounded.
The looks on the faces of Clark, Lawrence, Nate Reinking, Joel Freeland and Rob Archibald as the cameras switched between them showed the desperate disappointment that GB hadn’t executed the most important play of the game to that point. But I want to put the result in some perspective.
BBC analyst John Amaechi, a five-year NBA veteran, said after the game that executing correctly “98% or 99% of the time isn’t enough at this level.. it has to be 100%.” John’s right, of course – but the point is that GB were arguably towards that figurative 98% mark. In two previous defeats to Russia and Brazil, I’d say they’ve been in the mid-seventies of what I shall now call the Amaechi Scale.
This was the most sensational performance in British basketball history. The defence, anchored inside by the tenacious Freeland and the indomitable Archibald, was a marked improvement over the previous two games. Offensively, GB again looked somewhat limited in options, with Freeland (25 pts, 10-16 FG) stepping up to pace Deng (26 pts, 10-20) while Clark, Reinking and Mensah-Bonsu, GB’s three next most potent weapons, produced a combined 16 points.
In the final minutes, GB went on a tear. Down twelve in the middle of the fourth quarter, they elevated their defence and started attacking the basket, with the result that the team’s many shooters found more space. In the final 25 seconds, Clark, Reinking and Deng hit back-to-back threes as only Calderon’s famous free throw proficiency kept a worried Spain in front.
But when the Spanish inbound following Deng’s final three appeared to catch GB off guard, the game was done. In seven seconds, there simply isn’t time to realise you are out of position and correct it when you’re chasing a guard as smart and experienced as Calderon, who immediately attacked Clark before turning back towards his own basket and out-manoeuvring Lawrence. In the blink of an eye, the game was over. The Toronto Raptors guard finished with 19 points, including 6-8 FTs, to lead Spain in scoring.
Understandably, Team GB will wake up this morning probably furious at themselves for the isolated individual and collective errors over the course of the game which cost them what would have been a famous win. Spain, with Marc Gasol in foul trouble throughout and a sub-par showing from several of their key players, will be extremely relieved. The two teams now face very different prospects for their final two games – undefeated Spain will attempt to close out the group in games against Russia and Brazil, probably the two next best teams in the group, while winless GB need wins over both China and Australia if they are to defy the odds and advance to the elimination stages.
For two hours last night, the gap between the two sides was a whole lot smaller than that outlook suggests.
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