By Dimitris Kontos
|Juan Antonio Orenga has some additional breathing space after Spain won their first test game against Poland|
Reigning European champions Spain edged out Poland 70-66 on Tuesday in their first warm-up game ahead of EuroBasket 2013 and while they did not achieve greatness, they got what they really need at this stage - time.
Playing for the first time in the last 13 years without either of super-stars Pau Gasol and Juan Carlos Navarro, and also without the likes of Felipe Reyes and Serge Ibaka in the frontcourt, Spain accomplished a first important mission.
That was not, as some might believe, to convince anyone outside the country that they are still the intimidating super-power of years past, but to emerge victorious from the most anticipated encounter in the run-up to the EuroBasket, for reasons within Spain.
"Orenga's national team starts off with a win," read the headlines in the national press on Wednesday, and the importance of this reaction, however lukewarm, cannot be underestimated.
Apart from a phenomenal generation of players, Spain's enormous success in recent years owes a lot to the dedicated basketball public in the country, but even more to the appeal the team has had to casual fans, who follow the sport mainly because the national team delivered one medal after the other.
The venue for the premiere of the new-look Spanish team was the city of Castellon (close to Valencia) which, perhaps not by accident, is also the birthplace of new head coach Juan Orenga.
The capacity crowd in the arena, comprising mostly of enthusiastic young fans, and TV viewers around the country (the game was broadcast live on the public channel during prime-time) demanded a win, and although it required a comeback in the fourth quarter, the hosts duly obliged.
Despite the fact that every seasoned fan knows that one should not read too much into preparation games, Orenga and his players have now fenced off potential fatalism from the press and avoided alienating that casual public, who can now still believe the team can be successful even without some of their brightest stars.
Orenga and his players have now been given some extra time in peace, to work harder, improve and learn how to make the most of their new-look frontcourt.
|Led the charge for the new-look Spain side: José Calderón|
When Spain fell behind 54-47 eight minutes before the final buzzer and called a time-out, Orenga made it clear to his players that losing the encounter was not an option.
Even point guard Sergio Rodriguez, just seconds after sealing the victory with two free-throws five seconds from time, said on national TV: "the main thing is that we have won this, so now we can start improving our mistakes."
If this first friendly is anything to go by in terms of tactics, Spain look like they will start with two point guards, Ricky Rubio and Jose Calderon, while Rudy Fernandez plays at the '3' spot, in an effort to move the ball fast and impose a frenetic tempo.
If the transition game does not produce results, Marc Gasol will be their anchor on offence either by receiving at the high post to distribute the ball with his excellent passing skills, or by setting up a high screen for the pick'n'roll.
Poland on the other hand looked very disciplined and left anyone wondering what their limit will be at the EuroBasket, assuming that Marcin Gortat fulfils his promise and re-joins the team in a few days.
A focused Maciej Lampe, in excellent form, led Poland in scoring and rebounds in Tuesday's friendly and Polish fans are justified in expecting good things to happen from his frontcourt partnership with Gortat, especially since youngster Przemyslaw Karnowski is now ready to deliver in the role of the reliable back-up.
Calderon finished with 16 points for Spain on 4-for-5 shooting from three-point range, Gasol added 14 points and Fernandez chipped in with 11 points, while veteran Alex Mumbru collected a team-high seven rebounds.
Lampe picked up 13 points and eight boards for Poland while the also in-form Michal Ignerski added 12 points.