Spain Back on Track, Just in Time
Gasol, Spain's starting center, looked at the man strangely and didn't know what to say.
But the point of the story is that, a few days earlier, perhaps no opponent felt the need to kidnap a Spanish player.
Defending champs Spain, with Team USA one of the favorites in the 2010 FIBA World Championship, had gotten off to a surprising 1-2 start, losing to France and Lithuania.
But Spain has righted the Armada. The team won its final two games in Group D and then defeated Greece 80-72 to open the knockout round at the Sinan Erdem Dome.
"We were worried because we didn't feel like we were playing our game,'' Gasol, who plays for the Memphis Grizzlies, said of the early losses.
Now, it's a Serbian broadcaster who is worried. Spain faces Serbia in a quarterfinal Wednesday.
It wasn't always a Picasso that Spain showed off Saturday. But the finish was impressive as Spain closed with a 35-21 spurt after trailing 51-45 late in the third quarter. With Spain outscoring Greece 28-21 in the fourth quarter, Juan Carlos Navarro had 11 of his game-high 22 points and Spain turned up its defense, getting three steals.
"It was difficult games, France and Lithuania,'' Spain guard Sergio Llull said of losing to France 72-66 and Lithuania 76-73. "They have very good teams. But we started a little bit nervous. But now we start from zero. So we have to grow up.''
It's too early to say that Spain and the Americans, who met in an exhilarating 2008 Olympic gold medal game won by Team USA, are on a collision course to face off Sept. 12 in the final. But it's probably good for the tournament that Spain and the Americans won't meet in the quarterfinals.
That looked as it would happen entering Thursday's final day of group play, with the Americans having clinched the No. 1 seed in Group B and Spain looking likely to be No. 3 in Group D. But New Zealand upset France to allow Spain to move up to No. 2 and be placed on the other side of the bracket from Team USA.
"We're here now and everything that happened already is forgotten,'' Gasol, whose team also got 14 points Saturday from Portland swingman Rudy Fernandez, said of Spain's two early losses.
The win Saturday means Spanish star Pau Gasol, Marc's brother and recent winner of a second straight Lakers title ring, won't have to cancel any flight plans. Marc Gasol said his brother, who elected not to play this summer after a third straight season of playing deep into the NBA Finals in June, will be in Turkey for the Serbia game.
Just in case any Serbians try to kidnap Marc Gasol, his brother can help look out for him.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson