2012 London Olympics Men's Basketball Semi-Finals Preview: SPAIN vs RUSSIA

In the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Russia finished 1-4 through pool play and didn’t qualify for the elimination rounds as they watched the rest of the tournament from their own living rooms. In the 2012 London Olympics, however, they will no longer be watching, but will be playing.

In the semi-finals in 2008, Spain barely escaped from Lithuania as the Spaniards defeated Lithuania 91-86 to help them secure a spot in the gold medal game. This year, they can do that once again if they can get past Russia, who made it to the knockout round for the first time since 2000. In the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, Russia was quickly eliminated in the quarterfinals by the eventual gold-medalist United States. Currently, USA is on the other side of the semi-finals taking on Argentina and with USA highly expected to reach the gold medal round, Russia has more reasons to eliminate Spain and get their opportunity for revenge.

However, Russia is not the only team seeking revenge from the United States in the gold medal game. In 2008, Spain fell to USA in an epic gold medal game in which Spain could’ve pulled off an upset that would shock the world once again after the Americans only struck bronze in the 2004 Olympics. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to do that. This year though, they can try to pull it off once again and now have a deeper fire to do so.

For both teams, Russia and Spain, the opportunity to face the expected United States in the gold medal game is something very valuable to their team. However, the only thing standing in their way is one another. Both of the teams want to have the opportunity to do what Argentina did to the United States 8 years ago in Athens, Greece. A victory over the Americans.

Spain and Russia have both come a long way actually and neither will settle for anything less than a gold medal. A silver maybe for Russia, but definitely not bronze for either one.

Spain again will have the luxury of having the size advantage which they have had over almost all teams that competed in the games including the United States. Led by the 7 foot Gasol brothers, Spain has made it once again to the semi-finals with a chance to play for the gold. In the quarterfinals Spain’s defense came up big and held France to only 6 points in the final quarter as Spain ran away with a victory and a soar groin for Juan Carlos Navarro at the hands of France forward Nicolas Batum.

Going up against Russia, Spain’s offensive efforts in the quarterfinals should not be repeated at all as Russia can still score on them no matter how well they play defense compared to France. Nonetheless, with the addition of Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka to their crew, Spain will still be a force inside and will cause chaos in the paint for Russia who is undersized and have “under-skilled” big men compared to Marc Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies and Pau Gasol of the Los Angeles Lakers. Outside of the paint, Spain’s captain Juan Carlos Navarro, who scored 12 points and pulled down 6 rebounds in Spain’s victory over France, will alongside Toronto Raptors guard Jose Calderon will be taking control of the game play and the movement of the ball. Scoring will also be key for the two guards plus shooter Rudy Fernandez as the two Gasols are great passers who can hit them for an open trey.

After knowing that he’ll be joined in the front court with quite possibly the best center in the NBA today in Dwight Howard during the upcoming NBA regular season, Pau Gasol will be in a great mood tomorrow and can’t wait to meet up with NBA teammate and Lakers franchise player Kobe Bryant in the gold medal game. Ibaka didn’t necessarily have a good quarterfinal game so expect him to step it up today.

Led by newly-signed Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrei Kirilenko, Russia are most likely the underdogs heading into the semi-finals match despite defeating Spain earlier in the Olympic games 77-74. In that game it wasn’t the regular star players for Russia that stepped up. Point guard Alexey Shved, a new member as well with the Minnesota Timberwolves, had 0 points and even though Kirilenko had 8 points and 8 rebounds he still wasn’t the main guy as Russia had just more that one or two guys that can lead them to a victory.

Despite Pau Gasol dominating the game and finishing with 20 points, back-up guard Vitaly Fridzon led the way for Russia with his game-high 24 points and starting forward Anton Ponkrashov had a double double with 14 points and 11 assists. In that same game, Russia won in the rebounding category 34-33 which showed that Russia can actually match up to Spain’s bigs. This is one of the key things Russia must do as well today against Spain, either control the boards or just keep the rebounds to a minimal disparity.

Russia’s two main big men in Sasha Kaun and Denver Nuggets center Timofey Mozgov will be highly in need for Russia to pull of a victory today. Defensively, they’ll have to find a way to secure the defensive rebounds against the Gasols and Ibaka. Marc Gasol is likely going to be outside for most of the time shooting jumpshots which will allow the Russian big men to take over the paint. Offensively, they’ll just have to stay active and try to give Russia second chance points to allow point guard Alexey Shved to create more plays and control the game with his passing abilities.

In Russia’s quarterfinals game, Andrei Kirilenko stepped up with 19 points and grabbed 13 boards as well which helped Russia cruise to an 83-74 victory against a gritty Lithuanian squad. Mozgov, coming off the bench, was the second leading scorer in that game for Russia with 17 points and Fridzon, who starred against Spain, had 11 points.

Timberwolves fans, we know who we’re cheering for in this game …

My prediction: Spain wins, sorry Wolves and Russian fans, Spain just has a chip on their shoulder. 

The semi-finals game between Spain and Russia tips off at 11:00 AM CT on NBC.

The winner of this game will advance to the gold medal round to take on the winner of the semi-finals game between USA and Argentina. The loser takes on the loser of the other game as well.

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Tags: Alexey Shved Andrei Kirlenko Marc Gasol Pau Gasol Russia Spain

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