Day 5 Men: ESP 88 - NZL 84
Tall Blacks ruled out of medals race
ATHENS (Olympics) - They fought like warriors until the final seconds but New Zealand's basketball heroes suffered another agonising defeat to bow out of Olympic medal contention.
Up against Spain, unbeaten this summer and one of the teams chasing gold here in Athens, the Tall Blacks lost 88-84 in a contest decided right at the death.
New Zealand lost to Italy in their opener by just two points, and also had narrow defeats to China and Argentina.
Still, a win would have put Tab Baldwin's side into the quarter-finals as the fourth placed side in Group A if Serbia & Montenegro were to beat China later on Monday.
"We needed to win to give us a chance to get to the second round," said New Zealand's 30-year-old shooting guard Phill Jones to PA International. He led the Kiwis with 23 points.
"We could have beaten Italy as well in our first game, we had a terrible start in the Italian game and the Chinese game and that cost us.
"We could have easily finished first in our group."
The Kiwis trailed by as many as 14 points early in the third quarter but no lead has been enough against this Oceania side and they clawed their way back, finally pulling level with 2:47 remaining.
New Zealand pressure led to a Jorge Garbajosa turnover and Dillon Boucher drove in for a layup to make it 81-81.
The Helliniko Indoor Arena, sensing an upset by the big underdogs, got behind New Zealand.
Spain answered by getting the ball to their NBA star, Pau Gasol.
Sean Marks hammered the Memphis Grizzlies power forward for his fifth foul and had to exit the game, and Gasol made both free throws to give Spain a two-point advantage.
Power forward Pero Cameron, so effective outside shooting the ball in this tournament and against Spain - he had made three of six three-point shots to that point - received a pass in the lane and put up a jump hook but it clanged off the rim and Gasol rebounded.
Gasol, with 1:56 on the clock, showed his versatility by burying a three-pointer for an 86-81 advantage.
New Zealand refused to lose.
Cameron, with 1:11 on the clock, made his fourth shot from behind the arc to trim the deficit to two and after Gasol missed down low and Cameron rebounded, New Zealand looked to run.
Point guard Mark Dickel lost the ball out of bounds, turning the ball over to Spain.
Spain coach Mario Pesquera called timeout with 52 seconds left to talk strategy.
When play resumed, Jose Calderon missed an open three and Cameron rebounded.
New Zealand, with 36 seconds remaining and looking for an open man to put up a shot, got the ball to their former Big 10 All Star of the Wisconsin Badgers, Kirk Penney, who played last year in Spain with Auna Gran Canaria.
With 13 seconds left, Penney, with a hand in his face, launched a three-pointer from the top of the key but only drew rim.
Spain captain Carlos Jimenez rebounded, and Boucher, trying to stop the clock, took Jimenez down with a rugby tackle that would have made the All Blacks proud.
The referees called an intentional foul and Jimenez made both shots from the line for the final score.
"It was a great opportunity to prove ourselves," Jones said. "Spain proved to have great shooters in their roster."
Spain hadn't shot the ball well from long range for the entire tournament but against New Zealand they caught fire, burying 14 of their 26 three-point attempts.
Eight players, in fact, made three-pointers for Pesquera's men.
Rudy Fernandez, the precocious teenager from DKV Joventut, made all three of his from behind the arc and finished with 15.
Garbajosa had 17 points to lead Spain.
From Jeff Taylor, PA International, Athens
Jorge GARBAJOSA, Forward (ESP)
"It was a complicated game since we had already secured first place, but we had to play for our honor, our professionalism, and for a clean competition. We will go to the quarterfinals with the same approach whether we play the United States, Puerto Rico or Greece. We have all respect for these teams, and we will go for the win, because from now on to win the gold medal you have to beat everyone."
Ed BOOK, Center (NZL)
"Another tough game. We fought to the end and had the opportunity to come up with the win and the qualification, but we missed it. Spain are a classy outfit. They capitalized on their chances, and we didn't. We have a tough game against Angola tomorrow, and should concentrate on this one and not reflect on anything else yet."
Mario PESQUERA, Head Coach (ESP)
"It was a very difficult game, against a team that plays the best Basketball taking into account its talent and abilities. They have great offensive options and weapons, and a variety in their defense. Congratulations to coach BALDWIN for the job he has done. They played unbelievably well, and they failed to qualify due to the loss to China.
Our approach of the game had to be an honest one. When you compete at this level, you can't decide on another team's fate. I have respect for New Zealand, but also for Serbia/Montenegro, and most of all for myself and my team, and I didn't want anyone to have the idea that we were not giving our best. I just wanted to give some more time to players like (Oscar) YEBRA or (Iker) ITURBE, who are usually not playing that much. We are in the middle of a winning streak, and it would be dangerous to break it. I am a winner, and I hope to also pass this attitude to my players."
Tab BALDWIN, Head Coach (NZL)
"It's very difficult to mask the disappointment we feel. We had a big task against the team that played arguably better than anyone else in the tournament, a team that showed a lot of pride, talent, and desire to win this championship. They dominated our pool, and anyone playing against them from now on could be considered underdogs. We figured we'd leave them open for three-pointers and they'd miss like in other games, but they killed us and at the half we were down by 11. We changed our tactics a bit and played better defensively in the second half, but didn't come up with the result. It hurts not to be in the quarterfinals, but we have another game tomorrow and we must leave with as much pride as we brought here. Our final position will not be indicative of where we stand. We played all games close, unlike in Indianapolis (2002 World Championships). We came here to get results and improve our standing in the world Basketball community. Now we have to wait for the next competition. I hope to be again a part of this team then."
Philip JONES (NZL), Guard
On their game:
"It was a very close game, that seems to be the story of these Olympics for us. I am very disappointed, we needed to win this game to get on. We paid the loss from China, and the terrible start we had in the game with Italy. We could have easily finished 1st in our group, instead we finished last. It is not enough to win the respect of the crowd and the other teams, we want to win. It does not make much of a difference if we lose by 20 points instead of 1 or 2. We came here to show that we can win. I do not know what will happen in the next World Championships. Myself and some other players might not be around for that, the younger players might."
On their Olympic Tournament performance:
"It was a great opportunity to prove ourselves. Spain proved to have great shooter in its roster. It is a great team, they played well and they were expected to win. We rebounded well throughout the Tournament, but a lot of calls did not go our way. We were at 81 all, and we were on a streak but it all got to a stop due to a call. 99 out of a 100 times that does not happen, but it did today. I am sick of our team being the underdogs, we wanted to be winners in this Tournament. We know that we will have the great support from the people back home, like we always do."
Source: Athens News Service