With NBC Olympic hoops analyst Doug Collins repeatedly calling Pau Gasol the “best post player” in London, the Spaniard captained his country to a 79-78 victory over Great Britain, who made a late, desperate charge that came up just short.
Gasol finished with 17 points on 6 of 14 field goals with four assists, two rebounds and two blocks in the win, after scoring at least 20 points in Spain’s first two victories.
When Gasol wore Lakers colors last season, he often played in the high post so that Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant could get more low post touches. Gasol still got his share of touches on the block, but perhaps not as consistently as they come with Spain, which on Thursday allowed him to show his wide array of spins, up-and-unders and pull-up jumpers that make him so difficult to defend.
Gasol flashed his passing skills out of the low block as well, highlighted by a gorgeous no-look pass over his shoulder to his brother Marc, resulting in a dunk and a double-digit lead in the third quarter. His fourth assist came as soon as he checked back in with six-plus minutes in the fourth, a kick out of a double that got Jose Calderon a wide-open three to put Spain up 64-52.
Behind Bulls All Star Luol Deng, Great Britain cut the lead to three with 3:19 to play, before four straight Gasol points and 1-of-2 free throws from Marc Gasol made it a six-point game. The Brits responded again, however, with back-to-back buckets to cut it to just a two-point game, but a turnover got Spain a layup and 73-69 lead with 44.6 to play.
Deng nailed a three with seven seconds left – Britain’s third in the final two minutes – but the Brits couldn’t get to Jose Calderon in time to foul before time ran out.
Up next for Spain is a tricky test on Saturday against Russia, also 3-0, ahead of a Monday matchup with Brazil, the Spaniards looking to win Group B to make it likely they wouldn’t have to face Kobe Bryant and Team USA until a potential gold medal game.