Spain delivered on Sunday their best defensive display of EuroBasket 2015 in front of an all-time record crowd of 27,372 spectators at Lille's Pierre Mauroy stadium to roll past Lithuania 80-63 and lift their third European trophy in the last four championships.
Turning Point: Spain claimed possession of the driver's seat once and for all one minute after tip-off, when Sergio Llull took the lane for the second time in a row and scored with a lay-up to make it 4-2. Sergio Scariolo's men reached a double-digit lead, 15-4, on a Pau Gasol dunk 5:05 from the end of the opening quarter and stretched the gap to 16 points in the second frame, but Renaldas Seibutis instigated a Lithuanian fightback and Jonas Maciulis knocked down a triple at the half-time buzzer to reduce the deficit to 41-33. Spain felt that this gap did not reflect their dominance in the first half and made sure to rectify immediately once play resumed as a Pau Ribas triple with 5:50 left to play in the third capped off an 11-2 sequence that made it 53-35 and the gap never dropped to single digits again.
Stats Don't Lie: The sublime, masterfully-set Spanish defence stifled Lithuania and converted the Baltic side's search for open looks in a frustrating quest during long stretches. Lithuania shot a damning 35% from the floor and, perhaps more indicatively, only 42% from within the paint.
Game Hero: On the night that he passed Nikos Galis for third on the EuroBasket all-time scorers list, Pau Gasol also repeated the feat he had accomplished in 2009 and 2011 and paved the way to a EuroBasket crown for his nation. The Spanish legend finished the final with a double-double of 25 points and 12 rebounds, also adding four assists and three blocks and walked away with the gold medal, the title of EuroBasket top scorer for the third time in his career and of course with tournament MVP honours.
Bottom Line: Spain endured three long years without a gold medal in any major competition and saw their supremacy in European basketball placed in doubt but they improved in every single game since their opening night loss to Serbia in Berlin and avenged the loss to Lithuania in the EuroBasket 2003 final to cap off a dream campaign of redemption.
They Said: "We have done it again and we have to be proud because this is the tournament where we suffered the most, this time we did not arrive as favourites. It has a special taste because in the quarter-finals we beat a great team like Greece that was undefeated, in the semis we beat France which was also unbeaten, in their home, and in the final we beat a basketball nation like Lithuania" - Sergio Llull.
"Before this tournament I said that our team is in a between point, because some older players have finished and some younger ones are just starting. This summer we lost Motiejunas and the Lavrinovic brothers so it was really difficult from the beginning and for sure from that point of view the second position is nice for us, but we wanted to take victory tonight, it is just that they played better than us" - Jonas Kazlauskas.
|Spain have defied the odds, reaching the final despite a host of missing players such as Marc Gasol|
Following 15 days of action, there are only two teams remaining to reach the peak of European basketball.
Record: Spain LWLWWWWW v Lithuania WWLWWWWW
Spain and Lithuania represent two of the biggest powers in European basketball, but they came into EuroBasket 2015 as only mild contenders for the crown. Yet it is the two-time champions Spain squaring off against three-time winners Lithuania Sunday night at Pierre Mauroy Stadium to hoist the trophy to the heavens.
Missing some of their top players such as Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Jose Calderon, Spain started the tournament slow with two losses in their first three games. But Pau Gasol has carried the Iberians to five straight wins and their ninth top-two finish. The most recent win came in front nearly 27,000 spectators as Spain upset reigning champs and hosts
|Lithuania's only loss to date came against Belgium|
France in the semi-finals. A third crown in four EuroBaskets would happen for the first time since Yugoslavia won the trophy three times between 1995 to 2001.
Lithuania also entered EuroBasket 2015 missing some top players - Linas Kleiza and Donatas Motiejunas for example - but the Baltic power have stayed within their game plan and put together one win after the next. Their only loss was a buzzer-beater to Belgium in the group stage. Lithuania have five straight wins since then, including out-gunning Italy in the quarter-finals and then handing Serbia their first loss in the tournament in the semis. Lithuania have played six games decided by five points or fewer.
The final promises to be a battle between two teams who have a history in big games - with Spain getting most of the success.
Since Lithuania beat Spain in the EuroBasket 2003 final, Spain beat the Baltic side in the 2006 FIBA Basketball World Cup quarter-finals and 2008 Olympic semi-finals. Lithuania prevailed in the 2010 FIBA Basketball World Cup First Round while Spain won the last match-up in the first round of EuroBasket 2011.
|The ageless Pau Gasol has been immense for Spain|
Key Match-Up: Pau Gasol v Jonas Valanciunas
Gasol accomplished the nearly unthinkable in the semis against France as he scored half of his team's 80 points in an overtime thriller. It was just the latest majestic performance by the Spanish center at EuroBasket 2015, where he leads the tournament in scoring with 25.6 points and blocks with 2.3 rejections per game. He also ranks fourth in rebounding 8.4 boards per game. Fellow NBA center Valanciunas actually has four double-doubles to Gasol's three. The Lithuanian big man is averaging 16.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks a game. Valanciunas will not be able to stop Gasol but slowing him down would be huge in Lithuania's chances to take the title.
Key Stat: While Spain are third in the tournament in scoring (85.1 points per game) they also take care of the ball, committing only 9.9 turnovers per game - the third-fewest in the competition. Lithuania rank ninth in steals with 5 per game.
|Jonas Maciulis knows the Spanish team well, playing with five of their roster at Real Madrid|
"The first goal was to be here and try to be in the final to reach the Olympic Games. Of course it is a big opportunity for me and I really feel great because we did an amazing job all tournament." Spain forward Nikola Mirotic.
"They have Gasol but they also have plenty of other strong players. We are in the final and we are really happy. We want to show that we did not get here by accident." Lithuania forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas.
- Neither team have any major injury concerns.
- Sergio Scariolo is coaching Spain at a third EuroBasket, taking home the Nikolai Semashko (EuroBasket) Trophy on the two previous occasions.
- By making the final, Lithuania continue their remarkable record of playing in every Olympics since the country gained independence from Russia in 1991.
- Jonas Maciulis plays for Real Madrid alongside five players on the Spanish roster.