Argentina’s Golden Generation concluded Sunday in London without so much as a bronze.
In what could be the final game of international competition for Argentina’s vaunted quartet of Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni, Carlos Delfino and the Phoenix Suns’ Luis Scola, the Argentines dropped a hard-fought 81-77 decision to the Russians in the bronze medal game.
Scola scored just 11 points, trying his performance against Team USA in pool play for his lowest scoring game of the Olympics. He did, however, grab six rebounds after finishing with just one in the semifinals against the Americans and he also added four assists while hitting 5-of-12 shots.
For once Scola was not a foul-drawing menace as he drew a mere one personal after drawing 6.4 a contest through the first seven Olympic games. He finished third in this department behind Russia’s Kirilenko and China’s Yi, and ranked fifth among Olympians in scoring at 18.0 a game behind Mills, Durant, Ginobili and Pau Gasol.
The Russians seemed to be in control of this one when they took a 61-50 lead with 1:16 left in the third, but Argentina immediately fought back with a 12-1 run to knot things up at 62 with seven minutes left on a Ginobili driving layup.
Russian guard Alexey Shved, who will play for Minnesota next season, then blew up down the stretch by scoring 13 points in those final seven minutes to almost single-handedly lead Russia to the medal.
It was a seesaw affair throughout the final five minutes, as even when Russia took a five-point lead with 4:17 left on a Shved dunk, Argentina immediately answered back with treys by Nocioni and Ginobili to take the lead right back.
With about two minutes remaining and Argentina up two, Scola made the kind of “do anything to win” play that can only be caught with the benefit of replay when Russian forward Viktor Khryapa set a screen on Ginobili and seemed to level him for an offensive foul.
Yet anybody who saw Scola draw a foul on the Suns last April by pushing a Phoenix player into Chase Budinger shooting a three would be familiar with what actually happened.
Scola pushed Khryapa into Ginobili, who has never been one to shy away from theatrics in these situations himself. It was a perfectly coordinated flop job at a crucial juncture for Argentina that fooled even the announcers, yet based on what happened next, it could be argued that Argentina got its comeuppance.
Trailing by one with just under a minute remaining, Ginobili drove in and somehow got a wild layup to go; it was the kind of shot that only Ginobili could make to give Argentina its final lead of its great era if this is indeed it for Ginobili.
Shved immediately answered back with the go-ahead and eventual game-winning trey when Scola did not contest hard enough after Shved got a screen to free himself up for the long ball with 36 seconds left.
Argentina had one last chance as Ginobili found Scola off a pick and roll that caused Kirilenko to help inside on the rolling Argentine captain. Instead of taking the ball into traffic Scola wisely kicked it out to a wide open Nocioni for the lead, but his shot rimmed out.
Chaos ensued from there as Russia’s Vitaliy Fridzon had the ball taken away from him at halfcourt by Argentina’s Pablo Prigioni, who tried to pass the ball ahead to Delfino with nine seconds left and had it stolen by (who else) Shved. He then found Fridzon for an uncontested layup that sealed the win for Russia.
Once Delfino’s last gasp attempt to make a three and get fouled fell short, Scola, Ginobili and Prigioni all charged the referee by the Argentina bench along with head coach Julio Lamas as they felt Prigioni was fouled before committing the fateful bronze-clinching turnover.
“I don’t want to talk about the last play because we didn’t lose it in the last play,” Scola told The Associated Press. “It’s not the ref’s fault, it was our fault. I was mad because I thought it was a foul. Doesn’t matter, we didn’t lose the game right there.”
In all, Ginobili called it “one of the most painful defeats of my life” because the Argentines came so close to a third straight medal with this same core and were potentially victimized by a bad call (after getting the benefit of the crafty but cheap Scola play earlier).
If this is indeed their last Olympics, this one will certainly sting for some time for this tight Argentina squad that has accomplished so much this past decade during their Golden Generation.
This is likely their last chance to medal with this core since Ginobili will be 39 and Scola and Nocioni 36 by the time the 2016 Olympics roll around.
A bronze would have further validated one of the great non-US runs in Olympic basketball history by one group of players, especially for a squad that has run into the Americans in the semifinals of the past three Olympics.
But with how close this group has become and how beautifully they play together due to this continuity, Argentina has come to define what a national team should stand for throughout this decade playing and winning together.
NBC Sports Network analyst Donnie Marshall complimented Scola by saying, “He’s a worker. I’d take him on my team any day of the week. He just knows how to play the game. He has a knack for where the basketball is at all times, Luis Scola.”
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