No one wanted to win that game despite what the players had to say.
“No. Never,” Spain point guard Jose Calderon told ESPN.com when asked if Spain wanted to lose. “This is not our team, this is not the way we play, this is not the way. We’ve been together since I don’t know how many years, and we always play to win. Always.”
By the time the game was ready to start, it was known exactly who each team would play if they won or lost. The winner would move on as the 2-seed to a bracket that included Team USA as the 1-seed and Argentina as the 3-seed. The loser went to the side with Russia as the 1-seed and France as the 2-seed.
It’s not hard to see which bracket was more desirable to be in.
Before the game began it was announced that Brazil’s starting center Nene would sit out the game with plantar fasciitis. In a must-win game, Nene never would have missed a game vs. Spain especially because Brazil would need all the help they could get on the frontline.
Spain responded to Nene’s absence by playing their big guns few minutes. Pau Gasol played 24 minutes and Marc Gasol played 25. The brothers combined to score 45 points on 16-of-21 shooting.
Spain led 66-57 after three quarters but then was outscored 31-16 in the fourth to ultimately lose 88-82.
Rudy Fernandez only played 15 minutes and missed his only shot attempt. Jose Calderon played just 14 minutes while Serge Ibaka, who hadn’t been playing much all Olympics, logged 21 minutes and scored 14 points with six rebounds and three blocks.
Leandro Barbosa would lead Brazil with 23 points before sitting during the final minutes.
The game was clearly trying to be lost and by both teams. That’s not exactly what Olympic competition is all about right? Maybe it is.
The goal is to win a gold medal. Losing this game has put Spain in a better position to do so. It’s no guarantee or anything but there’s no question that Russia/France is weaker competition than USA/Argentina.
The problem, if there is one, is with the system or the amount of competition out there. There is a clear-cut difference in talent between Argentina and France despite France beating Argentina in pool play. Spain would never choose to play Argentina instead of France if they could, not to mention try and avoid the U.S. at all costs.
There is no real incentive to acquire a higher seed either because there’s no homecourt advantage. This will of course never be the case in the Olympics and this is really what we get with pool play.
Pool play is fair because it fairly seeds teams but since it is not a straight up elimination tournament, tanking will sometimes be beneficial. The only way to stop this would be to change the system.
Until then, Spain played it smart and Brazil will be left shaking their heads in the coming days as they try and get past Argentina and the U.S. to make it to a gold medal game.