By Chris Sheridan
KAUNAS, Lithuania — He had said it so many times over the course of EuroBasket, Spanish coach Sergio Scariolo was starting to sound like a broken record: “The 3-point shooting will come. It can come at any time, and it will come.”
It certainly did, and it came in such a quick blast that a surprisingly close game became a blowout in an instant.
Spain made seven 3-pointers on 10 attempts in the third quarter, starting with one by Rudy Fernandez 2:23 into the period, and ending with another by Fernandez at the buzzer sandwiched around three by Juan Carlos Navarro, one by Jose Calderon and one by Sergio Llull.
And in a span of only 10 minutes, a game that Spain led just 35-31 at halftime had become 71-45.
“Our comeback had already started,” Scariolo said after Spain defeated Slovenia 86-64. “We relaxed and made shots, but the game changed in the second quarter, which was completely different than the first quarter.”
Indeed, the Spanish team began this quarterfinal as though they were still waking up from a late night out — not an impossibility given the peculiarities of Spanish culture, in which dinner often begins at 11 p.m. or midnight. The Slovenians were quicker on their feet, the Spanish players were lollygagging downcourt, and it was 14-6 Slovenia after Jaka Lakovic nailed a 3-pointer with 6:14 left in the first quarter.
Spain did not take its first lead until Felipe Reyes scored inside with 1:36 left before halftime, and after intermission the onslaught began.
“Holding them to 10 points (actually it was eight) in the final five minutes of the 2nd quarter and early in the third, this is what changed the tempo of he game, along with Juan Carlos’ explosion,” Scariolo said. “From there we kept the right tempo, drew fouls from their big men — which is what we wanted, and Juan Carlos came up big.”
Navarro finished with 26 points and Pau Gasol had 19, but no other Spanish player reached double figures in a game in which Spain finished with 18 turnovers and just 16 assists.
Spain was 1-for-11 on 3-pointers aside from the third quarter, and they are now shooting 33 percent from behind the arc for the tournament (Lithuania, by contrast, had made 45 percent of its 3s entering Wednesday night’s quarterfinal against Macedonia).
Also, Ricky Rubio had another scoreless game in going 0-for-2 (he is 0-for-12 on 3s in the tournament) as his shooting percentage dropped to 19. That could become a factor in Spain’s next game if Jose Calderon is unable to play. (He twisted his ankle when Goran Dragic fouled him on a made 3-pointer late in the third quarter.)
“In 48 hours, even a small injury can still matter,” Scariolo said.
We’ll see if it does on Friday (plus whether the 3-point shooting can continue to improve) when an Olympic berth will be on the line in Spain’s semifinal against the winner of the Lithuania-Macedonia game.