Turning Point: Croatia took their second and last lead in the game with 4:55 remaining to the half-time buzzer, but Spain poured in 20 quick points to grab a 47-36 lead at the interval, and never looked back.
Game Hero: Sergio Llull came off the Spanish bench and contributed solid perimeter defence, energy and speed in the open court and above all sharp shooting from long-range, as he went 5-for-10 from beyond the arc and collected a team-high 21 points.
Stats Don't Lie: Spain scored 13 points in transition, 17 points off Croatian turnovers and 17 second-chance points. Croatia got just 16 points across all these categories combined.
|Sergio Llull was prolific for Spain in the bronze medal game, scoring 21 points to assure Spain of a medal|
Two-time European champions Spain pulled away from Croatia in the second half and prevailed comfortably 92-66 in the battle for third place on the podium at EuroBasket 2013.
With the exception of the opening stretch in the second quarter, Spain never left any doubts that they had taken to the court at Stozice Arena on Sunday absolutely determined to win bronze.
"A medal is a medal. We wanted gold but you can get one every time," said Ricky Rubio summing up his team's motivation on Sunday after the game.
Both Spain and Croatia defended the pick-and-roll effectively early on, with their big guys giving help generously.
Spain however were more resourceful in finding scores either from inside-out plays or in secondary transition and went on an 11-0 run to grab an early 14-4 lead.
Croatia recovered swiftly when Bojan Bogdanovic made the most of stagger screens down low and scored nine points in quick succession using his expansive offensive repertoire, and a Damjan Rudez triple 1:59 from the end of the period reduced the gap to 17-16.
Sergio Llull however sunk two consecutive three-pointers from the left wing and Spain took a 23-18 lead at the first buzzer.
Bogdanovic, who was nothing short of unstoppable in the first half when he scored 19 of his game-high 22 points, drilled two consecutive three-point shots from the wing, the second 4:55 from the half-time buzzer and pulled Croatia ahead 28-27.
Coach Juan Orenga called a time-out and once play resumed, Llull hit a three-pointer and after Spain got a stop on defence, he darted down the court to finish the fast-break with a lay-up, giving a 32-28 lead to Spain with 4:16 left in the second.
Bogdanovic with a big triple reduced to 38-34 but when Llull received the ball in his own half with less than four seconds on the clock and sunk another three right at the buzzer, he not only gave Spain a 46-36 half-time lead but also dealt a blow to Croatian morale.
|Ricky Rubio, Xavier Rey and José Calderón had every reason to smile on Sunday evening|
"Today it was not easy, they scored open shots, they played a great game, for sure they deserved this game," Croatia's Krunoslav Simon said afterwards.
Just seconds after converting his fifth three-point attempt in the game, Llull received an excellent assist from Rubio and dunked on the fast-break to give Spain a 54-40 lead, with 6:46 remaining in the third.
"We wanted to win so bad, our defence was pretty good from the first minute, Sergio Llull hit so many threes and helped us in scoring and Marc Gasol was... Marc Gasol," Rubio said afterwards.
Luka Zoric hit a jumper and Simon hit a triple to bring Croatia within 56-47 with 3:15 left in the third period, but Fernandez replied swiftly with a triple of his own on the next Spanish possession to restore a 12-point lead, 59-47.
It was Croatia's last effort to turn the game around and the gap increased with geometrical progress after that, ballooning up to 29 points late in the fourth.
"It's the worst thing to reach the semi-finals and go home without a medal," Simon said.
"But maybe when we go back home, we recover, we will feel better that at least we qualified for the World Cup, which was our goal before the championship.
"We won eight games in a row but it was maybe the wrong timing, we gave our best but we lost the two most important ones."
Spain playmaker Sergio Rodriguez by contrast, was grateful for Sunday's result.
"We already value this medal and for sure we will value it even more in the future," he said.
"We all wanted gold and play in the final, but we played the semi-final until overtime and it couldn't be.
"I think now we have to leave here satisfied, not only for our tournament but also for the work we did these two months."