LONDON – Britain was on the brink of pulling off a shock upset of world power Spain before failing at the finish. Now the minnows of the Olympic men’s basketball are on the brink of seeing their medal hopes ended.
Spain’s Jose Calderon scored 19 points and sank four key free throws in the final seconds for a 79-78 victory over the Olympic hosts despite 25 points from Joel Freeland and 23 from NBA Chicago Bulls star Luol Deng for Britain.
“Moral victories are still losses,” British coach Chris Finch said. “We’re proud of the way we played. We had an unbelievable atmosphere from the fans. For our purposes, we need to win games. We don’t have any margin for error.”
While Spain has clinched a berth in the medal playoffs, the British are 0-3 and must win their final round-robin games against Australia and China to have any hope of advancement despite the narrow miss and a 67-62 scare of Brazil.
“We showed a lot of heart,” Freeland said. “We just weren’t able to get that win.”
Finch said when asked about officiating that he did not think Deng was receiving sufficient respect on par with other NBA players for teams like Spain and the United States, citing Deng not shooting a free throw until the fourth quarter.
“I don’t think he’s getting the respect he deserves for being an All-Star player,” Finch said. “I was happy to see him angry. He needs to be angry over the respect he’s not getting.”
Reigning European champions Spain’s squad of NBA standouts, which had 17 points from Los Angeles Lakers big man Pau Gasol, barely escaped a stubborn British side that refused to quit.
“It was not one of our better games,” Spanish coach Sergio Scariolo said. “When you lose your focus and concentration, you can really get in trouble.”
The Spaniards stretched their lead to 60-48 entering the fourth quarter but Deng sparked a stunning British rally, the Olympic hosts making a 9-2 run to pull within 68-65 on an inside jump by Pops Mensah-Bonsu with 3:18 remaining.
Gasol added two free throws and his brother Marc Gasol another to give Spain a 71-65 advantage but Freeland sank a jumper with 2:00 to play and added a layin with 1:25 remaining to pull Britain within two points at 71-69 behind.
Aftr turnovers led to four Spanish points, Dan Clark answered for Britain by hitting a 3-pointer to cut Spain’s edge to 75-72 and, after Calderon sank two free throws with 25 seconds remaining, Nate Reinking’s 3-pointer for Britain made it 77-75.
Calderon made two more free throws with 17 seconds remaining, but Britain responded yet again, centre Mensah-Bonsu sinking a 3-pointer with seven seconds remaining leaving them just a point behind,
Calderon took the inbounds pass for Spain and raced around the backcourt, eluding British players desperate to foul him and stop the clock. Instead, the final seconds ticked away and the Spaniards had survived an epic scare.
“Congratulations to their effort and their belief in the last seconds,” Scariolo said. “We cannot win games waiting for someone to hand you the game. You have to go and grab it.”