By Jeff Taylor
Spain beat Latvia at their own game on Tuesday night in a 93-77 Group B triumph in Seville.
The Baltic players, renowned for their perimeter shooting – they were 11 of 18 from the three-point arc in their win over Croatia on Monday – gave Spain fits early on.
They were “very fast, very well organized and with very good interior play,” according to Spain’s Rudy Fernandez, their athletic shooting guard who is starting in place of the injured Juan Carlos Navarro.
But the sign of a good team is that it is able to make adjustments and that is what World Champions Spain did in their latest victory.
“The players have interpreted very well what needed to be done,” Spain coach Pepu Hernandez said.
“It was a tough game because we had to work a lot against a very quick team. This team was very dangerous for us. They choose the right positions to shoot. We had to work very hard on defense and that brought a lot of difficulties.”
If there was a turning point in this game, it happened at the end of the first half when Latvia could have held on for the last shot while trailing 38-36.
A basket would have brought them level, or put them into a one-point lead.
Instead, Sandis Valters rushed up a three-pointer with 12 seconds remaining and missed, and Spain went to the other end where Jose Calderon drilled a three-pointer for a five-point lead.
The Spanish ran off the court with fresh momentum, and when play resumed, their opponents got no closer than four points the rest of the way.
In the second half especially, Hernandez felt his team had played the way they must play to last deep in this tournament.
“There has been order, speed, and discipline,” he said. “And we have shown what must be our style.”
The Spanish team landed telling blows two and a half minutes into the third quarter, after an Andris Biedrins jump shot had cut their lead to 45-39.
Fernandez struck from long range, increasing his points haul to 10, and Spain motored away.
Garbajosa followed with a three-ball to stretch the lead to 51-39, and more importantly for Spain, show that he is getting closer to his old self after missing so much time while rehabilitating from a leg and ankle operation.
“I have seen Garbajosa much better than yesterday,” Hernandez said.
“He had more rhythm, more security.”
Spain did not blow Latvia out, though.
Buoyed on by their fanatical support from travelling fans, the Latvians managed to hang around although they never seriously threatened Spain.
“In those moments when we had a bad lapse,” said Latvia coach Karlis Muiznieks, “it was the great support of our fans and the team always managed to find a way out of the bad luck to keep the game interesting.”
While Latvia shot a respectable nine of 22 (41%) from three-point range, their speciality, Spain were even better at eight of 18 (44%).
“We saw the first game against Portugal and Spain had most of their power underneath the basket, that’s why our tactics were to focus under the basket,” the Latvia coach added.
Gasol finished with a game-high 26 points on eight of 11 (73%) shooting, while Fernandez had 18. He was five of nine (56%) from the floor, including three of six from the arc.’”
For Latvia, Biedrins scored 17 points on eight of 15 (53%) shooting and also grabbed five rebounds.