Game Hero: Marc Gasol collected a 14-point, 11-rebound double-double and Rudy Fernandez was excellent on both ends of the floor *15 points, eight rebounds) for the winners, but José Calderón put on the hat of the floor general at the point guard position and the shooter at the "2" spot, successfully filling in for Juan Carlo Navarro, up to a point. He finished with 13 points and three assists.
Stats Don't Lie: Croatia finished on 25% shooting from the floor but even before the catastrophic final quarter, when they only scored three points, they had converted only 30% of their shots. No team can possibly knock down the reigning champions on the back of such poor shooting.
|José Calderón had no real reason to scratch his head, successfully taking Spain to an opening day win|
The new-look Spain ended emphatically the debate about their true potential on Wednesday in Celje by making Croatia sweat for every single point and kick-starting their EuroBasket 2013 campaign with a 68-40 triumph.
With 3:36 remaining in the first quarter, Marc Gasol of all players darted down the court, received the final pass from Ricky Rubio in transition, scored with a lay-up and drew a foul, converting the and-one play to give Spain their first double-digit lead in the game, 15-5.
The crowd in Celje Arena perceived it as declaration of intentions and braced for a Spanish run-and-gun fest and a high-scoring game.
It was not to be the case.
Spain led 24-9 at the first buzzer, but from then on it would be their ability to close down all lanes on defence rather than their free-flowing offence that would keep them safely in the driver's seat until the end.
"It was a difficult game for both sides but our defence was the key," Spain point guard Sergio Rodriguez argued.
"Once we got an advantage it allowed us to be a bit more relaxed on offence.
"We defended very well during long stretches, once we adjusted at the problem they posed for us with the pick-and-roll," Spain head coach Juan Orenga explained.
"Our big men protected the paint well, but it had to be covered by a second line of help so that to prevent them from rolling and shooting."
Croatia's four frontcourt players had to fight for space, rarely got an open look and combined for 14 points.
The Croats shot an abysmal 2-for-17 from three-point range and Bogdan Bogdanovic was the only player to score in double digits (12 and seven rebounds), mainly on the back of heroic drives to the basket against the entire Spanish defence.
Spain on the other hand not only registered their most comfortable victory in a EuroBasket premiere in recent memory, but also made a firm statement towards about their intentions in Slovenia.
Anyone who wants gold at EuroBasket 2013, will have to praise it off the hands of its current holders.