Spain Edges Italy in Euro Semifinals
Posted Sep 15 2003 7:59PM
Spain 81, Italy 79
STOCKHOLM, Sweden, Sept. 13 -- This semifinal game would ultimately come down to the tale of two guards: Juan Carlos Navarro of Spain, and Massimo Bulleri of Italy.
Although Bulleri, the 2003 Italian Player of the Year won the invidivual battle, 24 points to Navarro's 23, it was the Spanish point guard who came out on top, hitting key shots down the stretch to lead Spain to an 81-79 victory and a finals clash with Lithuania to determine who will be crowned 2003 European Champion.
In a tight game in which the score was tied 19 times, and the lead changed no less than 15 times, it was Italy which held the upper hand until late in the third quarter.
The Italians started the stronger behind seven first-quarter points from captain Giacomo Galanda as they forged open a 17-10 lead. The Memphis Grizzlies' Pau Gasol helped keep Spain in touching distance with 10 first-quarter points as he quickly began to put his stamp on the game.
With Italy cooling off, Spain took a slender one-point lead 20-19 into the second quarter, thanks largely to a 10-0 run and intensified efforts on defense. Italy came out firing in the second quarter and behind the hot hand of Bulleri surged to a 38-29 lead. His two three-pointers and 11 second-quarter points would help give Italy its biggest lead of the game at 40-29.
Spain responded with two Gasol free throws followed by a big three from the smallest man on the court, Carlos Marco, reducing the deficit to eight points in favor of the Italians at the end of the half (44-38).
Spain's Navarro hit an early three to set the tone for what would be an impressive second-half performance by the point guard drafted by the Washington Wizards in 2002. Jorge Garbajosa would also provide a well-needed burst of energy as he connected on a three followed by two free throws to tie the score at 46.
With neither team able to establish itself, the third quarter ended with both teams trading baskets and with it the lead. Spain held a two-point lead, 62-60, going into the decisive fourth quarter: A quarter which began in similar fashion to the previous quater, which is to say on a Navarro three.
Navarro took upon himself to take over the game. Following a tough spin move in the lane, Navarro once again tied the score at 73. Gasol scored his first points since the second quarter, making one of two free throws with 3.22 left in the game.
Guard Gianluca Basile took over the reins from a now-tired Bulleri and helped keep Italy in the game with six fourth-quarter points. A tough floater in the lane followed by a hard drive and finish gave Navarro another four points to his growing tally, and with Italy failing to score in three successive possessions, Spain took what appeared to be a comfortable lead 80-74 with 1:35 remaining. With Gasol only converting on one of two free throws, a rejuvinated Bulleri hit a big three with 30 seconds left to reduce Spain's lead to just two points, 81-79, thereby promising a nail-biting finale.
On the following possession, the red-hot Navarro was called for an offensive foul giving Italy the last shot of the game with 18 seconds remaining. Following a timeout, the ball went fittingly in the hands of Bulleri. After winding down the clock at the top of the key he began his move to the right, pulling up for a short baseline jumper, which fell just short.
The victory went to Spain, which despite comitting 15 turnovers, shot an impressive 67 percent from the floor and with it booked its place in the final.