LONDON (AFP) –
Spain and Russia clinched berths in the Olympic men’s basketball medal playoffs with thrilling victories on Thursday while France and Argentina took big steps toward reaching the quarter-finals with triumphs.
And the US Dream Team of NBA stars were looking to remain undefeated and all-but seal a playoff berth with a victory over Nigeria later in the day’s last of six preliminary round games.
Vitaliy Fridzon sank a 3-pointer from the left corner with four seconds remaining to give Russia a dramatic 75-74 victory over Brazil in a battle of unbeatens while reigning European champion Spain edged winless Britain 79-78.
Jose Calderon led Spain with 19 points and sank crucial free throws in the final seconds to hold off a late charge by minnows Britain, led by 25 points from Joel Freeland and 23 from NBA Chicago Bulls star Luol Deng.
“When you lose your focus and concentration, you really get in trouble,” Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said.
The win ensured Russia and Spain will advance from Group B. Brazil will join them with one more win. Australia would advance by beating Britain on Saturday.
Alexey Shved hit a jumper and a 3-pointer to pull Russia even at 72-72 with 26 seconds remaining. Marcelinho Huertas put Brazil ahead with a layup with 6.1 seconds to play before Fridzon hit the game winner.
“Wins like this give the team a lot of confidence,” Fridzon said. “We showed that we will never give up.”
Andrei Kirilenko scored 19 points to lead Russia while Timofey Mozgov added 18 points and Shved finished with 17. Brazil was led by 16 points from Leandrinho Barbosa.
“We should learn from this,” Huertas said. “They hit a very tough shot. Maybe he shoots this shot 10 times and he would never hit it again.”
NBA star guard Tony Parker scored 27 points to lead France over Lithuania 82-74 while Manu Ginobili, Parker’s teammate on the NBA San Antonio Spurs, netted 24 points as Argentina ripped winless Tunisia 92-69.
Both France and Argentina moved to 2-1 in Group A and each can secure playoff spots with a split of their last two games.
“It was really important to win,” French NBA standout Boris Diaw said. “We are chasing a quarter-final place and we want to be as high up the table as possible.”
Lithuania sunk to 1-2 and must face the Americans next.
“We’ve got to prepare for that game like we do for every game,” Lithuania’s Martynas Pocius said. “It’s going to be a very tough game. We’ve got to try.”
Even if they advance, the Lithuanians are looking at facing Spain or Russia in the quarter-finals.
“We’re not quitting,” Lithuanian coach Kestutis Kemzura said. “We want to use even the smallest chance.”
Argentine NBA sharpshooter Carlos Delfino scored 21 points and NBA big man Luis Scola added 18 for Argentina, which won Olympic gold in 2004 at Athens and took a bronze medal four years ago in Beijing. Next for Argentina is Nigeria.
“The next game is very important to us. It’s a game that’s going to clinch us a quarterfinal,” Scola said.
Tunisia led 28-14 after the first quarter, but Ginobili sparked Argentina to the first 15 points of the second quarter and after a 40-40 half-time deadlock the South Americans opened the third with a 23-6 run over six minutes to romp.
“We started the game pretty badly but after the first quarter, we played well,” Scola said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, but if we play like we did in the second half we’ll be OK.”
Australia delivered a double blow to winless China’s playoff hopes with an 81-61 triumph in which Chinese NBA star Yi Jianlian suffered a right knee injury. Yi’s status was uncertain for the remainder of the Olympics.
“He took a bang just above the knee,” Chinese coach Bob Donewald said. “We’ll have to see how he is.”
The Aussies had 20 points from NBA guard Patrick Mills and 17 points from David Andersen.
“It meant a lot to win,” Andersen said. “If we hadn’t it would have been hard to make it to the next round. We show character when our backs are against the wall.”