Commentary

Rubio debuts for Spain; Argentina loses

Originally Published: August 10, 2008
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

Ricky RubioPhil Walter/Getty ImagesRubio had seven points and one helper in his debut.
BEIJING -- Ricky Rubio has some trouble handling the backcourt trap, but Spain had no problem handling Greece on the opening day of Olympic men's basketball.

Rubio, the mop-topped 17-year-old wunderkind who has drawn comparisons to Pistol Pete Maravich, didn't show a ton of flash in his official debut for the Spanish national team. But he hit his first shot with a speedy drive past Theo Papaloukas, and he ended the game with a set 3-pointer from 25 feet as Spain defeated Greece 81-66.

"He has a very good brain for his age. He has played well in preparations, and today was so-so. It's not every time the players are going to play perfect. Every game there is a need for improvement," said new Spanish coach Aito Garcia Reneses, who pulled a surprise by starting Marc Gasol at center over his brother, Pau.

Rudy Fernandez scored 16 points, Jose Calderon had 13 and Pau Gasol 11 for the Spaniards, who pulled away in the third quarter after the Greeks managed to trail by only six at halftime. That was despite missing 7 of 11 free throws and losing their best big man, Sofoklis Schortsianitis, to his third foul after just five minutes of playing time.

Calderon and backcourt mate Juan Carlos Navarro led a third-quarter surge. Calderon started the 15-2 run with a 3-pointer and a drive, then assisted on a corner 3 by Navarro before converting a three-point play to put Spain ahead 50-31.

That's when Reneses-Garcia called on Rubio instead of Raul Lopez, who had been the first playmaker off the bench in the first half. Greece then posted two defenders near the 3-point line in the backcourt and dared Rubio to beat them, and he failed on his first two attempts to get the ball past midcourt. One of those traps led to a turnover and a breakaway layup by Dimitrios Diamantidis that pulled Greece to 56-44, but it got no closer.

Rubio, who almost never speaks publicly, spoke briefly in the official interview room afterward. He finished with seven points and one assist in 13 minutes.

"I always say that age is not important. The referees don't care if you are 16 or 28," he said.

"I don't feel any pressure about playing against them," Rubio said of Spain's upcoming game against Team USA on Saturday. "I only think about the next game."

Reneses did not fully explain his decision to start Marc Gasol over Pau, who ended up playing 19 minutes and grabbing a team-high seven rebounds. Greece had trouble dealing with Spain's size, and didn't help itself by finishing 11-of-24 from the free-throw line.

"We have to concentrate on our free throws, and concentrate on not throwing the ball into the hands of our opponents," Greece coach Panagiotis Yannakis said. "We're going to try next game to not give away so many presents."


Lithuania 79, Argentina 75

Easily the game of the day, and not just because the defending Olympic champions lost -- but also because they almost pulled off an unlikely win.

The Lithuanians took control after Luis Scola of Argentina missed a pair of free throws with Argentina trailing 42-41 early in the third quarter. Soon after, it was 61-49, but Manu Ginobili began to take over. He scored eight of Argentina's next 13 points, then fed Andres Nocioni for a long 2-pointer that cut Argentina's deficit to 75-67 with 3:20 left.

That began a 10-0 run that ended with Scola scoring inside off a pass from Ginobili to tie it at 75-75 with 1:34 remaining. A miss from each team kept things tied into the final minute, and Sarunas Jasikevicius missed a 3 with 38 seconds left to give Argentina another chance to go ahead.

Everyone knew Ginobili was going to be the man, but his 18-footer was off-target, and Lithuania had the ball with 20 seconds left. Jasikevicius used a high screen to get Fabricio Oberto to switch onto him defensively, then drove the lane and got the defense to collapse just the slightest bit -- but enough to get Linas Kleiza an open look from 3-point range. Kleiza drilled it with 2.1 seconds left, Carlos Delfino turned over the ensuing inbounds pass, and the tournament had its first stunner.

"It's a great win for us," Kleiza said. "At the end we almost choked, but we were able to come out with the win -- that's what counts."

Said Ginobili: "Every time you lose you feel bad. We could have won it, I took a bad shot and missed, and Kleiza hit a big one. In these types of games, sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it goes the other way."


Germany 95, Angola 66

Quite a debut for Germany's new twin big men.

It was the rare occasion when someone other than Dirk Nowitzki led Germany in scoring as Chris Kaman shot 10-for-12 and scored 24 points -- one more than Nowitzki.

Kaman, an American citizen and Los Angeles Clippers center who obtained a German passport this summer (his great-grandparents were from Germany), revealed that his father, LeRoy, of Grand Rapids, Mich., was unhappy with his decision to represent a country other than the United States.

"But I gave my word to Dirk, and when I give my word I keep it," Kaman said. "How many people get an opportunity to one day tell their kids and their grandkids that they played in the Olympics? They told me it would take three weeks to get the passport, but it ended up taking like four months."

Nowitzki shot 7-for-9 overall and 3-for-3 from 3-point range, and 7-footer Jan-Patrick Jagla grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds. Along with longtime national team center Patrick Femerling, the Germans have four 7-footers at their disposal. That's a huge factor in Group B, where three teams -- Greece, Angola and the United States -- are undersized.


Croatia 97, Australia 82

Although it was only the first day, this was a huge game for a pair of teams expected to vie for fourth place in their group -- as was the case in the Germany-Angola Group B game.

Croatia went 7-for-8 from 3-point range in the first half to open a 16-point lead, and Australia never challenged thereafter.

Barring an unlikely victory by Iran in the next four games, Australia now needs to defeat Russia, Lithuania or Argentina in order to advance to the quarterfinals.


Russia 71, Iran 49

Russia got 19 points and five steals from American expatriate J.R. Holden and 15 points and three blocks from Andrei Kirilenko, pulling away in the fourth quarter for the victory.

Viktor Khryapa of Russia, who was held out of his team's tune-up games due to an ankle injury, played 20 minutes and shot 4-for-5, re-entering the game midway through the third quarter and leading the charge as Russia closed with a 25-13 run.

"People don't know how badly he's injured. He has a torn ligament, and he opted to play rather than have surgery," coach David Blatt said. "He's about 60 percent -- and 40 percent is physical and 20 percent is heart."

Click here for another interesting item from this game.

Chris Sheridan is an ESPN.com Insider. He has covered the U.S. senior national team since the 1996 Olympics. To e-mail Chris, click here.