Fri, Sep 02, 2011 - Page 20 News List

Gasol gives Spain winning start

Reuters, PANEVEZYS, Lithuania

Holders Spain managed to edge out Poland 83-78 thanks to an inspired performance from Pau Gasol in Group A on the opening day of the European basketball championship on Wednesday.

The 31-year-old power forward, who steered Spain to the 2009 title in Poland, stepped up with some crucial plays in the last two minutes when their unfancied rivals threatened to stun the favorites in the 24-team EuroBasket tournament.

France point guard Tony Parker was the day’s other top performer after driving his team to a roller coaster 89-78 win over Latvia in Group B.

The big winners were 2009 runners-up Serbia, who saw off former champions Italy 80-68 in the same group.

Spain seemed to be cruising after Gasol scored 11 of their opening 13 points, but stubborn Poland refused to lie down and forced a dramatic finish on the back of 19 points from point guard Lukasz Koszarek and 18 by US-born Thomas Kelati.

Gasol finished with a game-high 29 points and seven rebounds, having received good support from his younger brother Marc, who had 16 points and seven rebounds, as well as point guard Juan Carlos Navarro, who added 23 points.

Forward Boris Diaw chipped in with 14 points for France, Mickael Gelabale had 11, while center Joachim Noah and point guard Nicolas Batum added 10 each in a balanced team effort.

Serbia failed to score in the opening four minutes against Italy and trailed 18-10 at the end of the first quarter.

A 39-14 run put Serbia in control midway through the third period and although Italy got within four points with a 19-6 rally, they ran out of steam in the closing stages.

Much like Spain, hosts and 2003 winners Lithuania looked lethargic for long spells against Britain before waking up in the final quarter to win 80-69 in front of a raucous home crowd.

In contrast, 1993 champions Germany cruised to a 91-64 rout of Israel thanks to 25 points from their talismanic forward Dirk Nowitzki, who ran the show throughout the one-sided contest.

Having led the Dallas Mavericks to their first NBA title in June, Nowitzki returned to action in grand style and gave Israel a roasting at both ends of the court as did his teammate Chris Kaman, who scored 18 points to go with 10 rebounds.

Montenegro, a tiny republic on the Adriatic with a population of just 650,000, enjoyed their first taste of success in a major event as an independent nation with a 70-65 overtime win over fellow former Yugoslavs Macedonia.

Greece’s Nikolaos Zisis and Nick Calathes got 13 points each to give the 2005 winners a 76-67 win over Bosnia in Group C.

Russia, who won the title in 2007, labored to a 73-64 win over neighbors Ukraine in Group D, where Slovenia also had to dig deep to carve out a 67-59 defeat of Bulgaria.

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