Croatia vs Spain
Croatia's Roko Ukic (10) and Dario Saric, left, celebrate after Spain's Pau Gasol, right, failed to make the final shots and Croatia upset Spain in a men's basketball game at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) ORG XMIT: OBKO228

Croatia outsmarted Spain in one of the most exciting opening basketball games in Rio Olympics on Sunday. The Group B match ended with a 72-70 score line leaving the Spaniards dazed because they came into the game as the favorites. The last three Olympics have shown that USA Basketball still outshines most rival national teams by winning gold in the Beijing 2008 and London 2012. However, Spain remain their biggest threat because of their NBA talent has grown of late. Latest basketball lines show that Spain’s basketball squad has seven players currently playing in the NBA, three ex-NBA players, along with a draft pick (Sergio Llull).

Croatia did not show any fear against Spain, as they kept pushing Spain to the limits and testing their skills in the opening group B game. Bojan Bogdanovic, the Brooklyn Nets guard scored 23 points, while Dario Saric, the Philadelphia 76ers rookie made a superb game-saving block to help them clinch a rare victory. Their outstanding performance clearly sent a signal to the other four well-polished national basketball powerhouses: Argentina, Brazil, Lithuania, and USA.

For Spain, this irritating defeat comes with various opinions and judgments’ as stated below.

Spain Group Performance in London 2012 was not Satisfactory. 

Spain had an easy time in their group games in the 2012 London Olympics, recording a solid win in their first game against a weak Chinese team, followed by another victory over a disjointed Australian team. Such wins gave them the courage to go head-to-head with Team USA for a chance to clinch the gold medal. They recorded a slim win over Great Britain in their third game by a single point, but it was a mediocre win since Great Britain was the host country and was extremely weak. After their 77-74 loss to Russia, the Spaniards intentionally dropped their fifth game against Brazil to avoid meeting Team USA before the finals. They beat France, and later got their revenge against Russia to line them up with USA in the gold medal match, which they lost with a 107-100 score line. Perhaps, they hope to have such luck this year to reach the finals, but things seem to have started unexpectedly.

Rudy Fernandez and Juan Carlos Navarro are not Threats Anymore

The exceptional 3-point play skills that Juan Carlos Navarro have cushioned Spain with made the team fearless of any opponent in the past. He had a specialty of setting up the game from mid-court to earn vital points. Rudy Fernandez also displayed unmatchable talent by making unfathomable chances with his accurate shots, which kept Spain dominating most games.

However, in their game against Croatia, the 31-year-old Fernandez only attempted and missed three disappointing 3-point shots during his 29 minutes of play. The 36-year-old Navarro played poorly, missing both 3-point shots he attempted in 11 minutes of play. Perhaps they have only lost one game, but the concern is that Croatia was an easy team to beat but they failed.

Marc Gasol’s Absence Magnifies the Threat from Team USA

Spain have clearly started to worry about the absence of Marc Gasol in Rio as displayed by their dismal performance against Croatia. Croatia outrebounded Spain by 41-30 as the latter surrendered 10 offensive rebounds, which encouraged them to upset Spain in that game. With Planinic playing, Croatia managed to outclass Spain, especially with offensive rebounds. If Pau Gasol was present, such could not have happened in Rio. Even though he is not a great rebounder, Spain missed Gasol in the defense because he has the ability to use his giant body effectively on the glass.

If Spain meets the U.S. in a gold-medal game in Rio, Gasol’s absence could mean that such a match could end by a small margin just like in London 2012. You should note that Team USA are also without big names, such as Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, James Harden etc. Even though Team USA remains solid without them, a full-strength Spanish squad could still accomplish a rare victory over the U.S. if they play in the final match. The biggest question is, will Spain reach the gold-medal game and probably play better to outshine Team USA?

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