Spain have relied heavily on one man throughout EuroBasket, Emmet Ryan expects nothing to change when they face Greece in the quarter finals
He’s battered. 17 years as a pro with most of those seasons extended by playoffs, international duty, or both. On Saturday he wasn’t supposed to play more than 5 minutes at a time but his country needed him. Pau Gasol has always answered that call, even when his body was obviously creaking against Poland. No matter, 30 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists where what Sergio Scariolo got from his wounded warrior in 31 minutes. Through 6 games he is averaging 28.5 minutes per contest with 23 ppg, 7.8 rpg, and 3 apg. It’s not the Spain team he’s used to playing on. His buddy Juan Carlos Navarro isn’t here, his long-term foot problems have effectively ended his international career. Jose Calderon is clearly missed in the back-court too along with Ricky Rubio. Even his borother Marc isn’t in Lille. It’s not however like Pau is carrying a bunch of scrubs. Instead, Spanish basketball’s icon is leading a team that is flatly under-performing.
Sergio Scariolo has made much of the radical changes from last year’s World Cup line up but look who Spain do have. Nikola Mirotic, good numbers but not close to what Spain need, and the disappointing Real Madrid triple crown winning quarter of Rudy Fernandez, Sergio Llull, Felipe Reyes, and Sergio Rodriguez. Little was expect of Guillermo Hernangomez or Pau Ribas at this tournament but the latter has been Spain’s most consistent back-court player. This is a team loaded with quality that isn’t getting it done.
So it falls to Pau. He’s not a presence on defence anymore but even a lights-out display from him at the back would do little to change the open door policy of Spain’s D. They lack structure, coherence, or anything one expects from a side that used to terrify Europe and give the Americans real pause for thought. Instead the Chicago Bulls man is leading from the front. He’s scoring a ton because he has to. The outside options aren’t getting it done. Gasol has been their best from deep, by a wide margin, going 8 of 10 from three including 6 of 7 against the Poles. Ribas is the only player offering a legitimate threat from behind the arc on a regular basis. Rodriguez hasn’t been great (8 of 21 from 3) while Llull has been just plain bad (6 of 27). That’s where the threat is supposed to come from while Mirotic is meant to take the excess weight but he’s often absent for large stretches of his time on court. When Spain look to score, Pau is often the only viable option.
Up to now, that’s been enough. Defeats to Serbia and Italy showed the frailty of leaning too much on the big guy. Germany were unlucky not to take the Spanish to overtime and Iceland, despite eventually losing big, actually made them work for their win. Poland did likewise, with a second half surge fuelled by Pau making the margin comfortable in the end. Spain have not looked comfortable, save for their second game against Turkey they’ve had to grind hard and most of this roster hasn’t been up to it. Tonight they take on a Greece team with a rep in recent years for being flaky but who, through this tournament, have looked drilled. Giannis Antetokounmpo may be the big name for NBA fans but it’s the veterans who are getting it done. Greece have the rotations, the discipline, to hang with anybody here. They have the talent too. Far more than Germany and Poland brought at Spain. Pau will score on them but that won’t be enough. He could go off for 30 and Spain will still be in a fight.
They need Chacho, Llull, Mirotic, and the rest to step up. There’s no sign that’s going to happen. Battered and bruised Pau will do his job either way. He’ll carry the load until he breaks. It’s what his team needs, whether the rest of the roster does its job or not. Vamos Pau!