The 2020 Olympic Men's Basketball Tournament, featuring 38 players from the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague and 7DAYS EuroCup playing key roles for their countries, continued Thursday with second first-round games for all Group A teams at Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo, Japan. The day started with Slovenia pushing through to the quarterfinals with a victory over host Japan and finished with a rematch between the last finalists at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, champion Spain and runner-up Argentina.
Group C: Slovenia makes, Spain repeats history
In the early game on Thursday, Slovenia qualified for the knockout rounds in its first Olympics as an independent country by downing Japan 116-81 as former EuroLeague stars Luka Doncic and Zoran Dragic combined for 49 points. Slovenia moved to 2-0 in the group and mathematically qualified to the quarterfinals starting next Tuesday. Doncic paced the winners with 25 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists. Dragic, who played for Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz last season, added 24 points while Klemen Prepelic of Valencia Basket had 12 and Jaka Blazic of Cedevita Olimpija Ljubljana 10. Rui Hachimura paced Japan with 34 points. Slovenia led from start to finish but only by 20-18 late in the first quarter, before Dragic and Doncic gave their team fresh air at 29-23 after 10 minutes. Gregor Hrovat hit a floater that gave Slovenia its first double-digit lead, 38-28. Slovenia boosted its margin to 53-41 and then again to 70-52 on a dunk by Valencia center Mike Tobey. Nothing changed after that, as Slovenia kept running its offense through Doncic and Dragic and cruised to a truly historical win. Slovenia is now 14-0 in international competitions dating to the 2017 FIBA EuroBasket since Doncic joined the team.
Spain is going back to the Olympics quarterfinals four a fourth time in a row after downing longtime foe Argentina 81-71 in Thursday's late game. Spain matched Slovenia's 2-0 record atop Group C thanks to an 11-2 run late in the third quarter that kept Argentina on its heels the rest of the game. Former EuroLeague champ Ricky Rubio led Spain with 26 points while Nicolas Laprovittola, a new signee for his old team, FC Barcelona, scored 27 for Argentina. Sergio Llull of Real Madrid added 10 points for Spain. One day after signing with Barcelona for two seasons, Laprovittola fired Argentina to a quick 6-15 lead with 10 points. Rubio replied with 8 of his own in a 10-0 run that put Spain in front. It stayed close as Llull and his Real teammate Rudy Fernandez combined for 13 points on Spain's way to a 40-34 halftime edge. Laprovittola stayed hot and had 22 points through the middle of the third quarter, but Llull and Pau Gasol soon boosted Spain to its biggest lead, 61-47, before a buzzer-beater by Nicolas Brussino of Gran Canaria left a 61-52 scoreboard after 30 minutes. Spain's defense did the rest to assure the team's place in the knockout rounds once again.
Slovenia and Spain joined previously qualified Australia and France to fill half of the quarterfinal spots. All four are unbeaten at 2-0. The other qualifiers and the final placings for all teams will be learned in the final group games over the weekend. In Group A on Saturday, USA (1-1) and Czech Republic (1-1) will decide one spot, with Iran facing France earlier in the day. It's possible that the USA-Czech Republic loser could advance, too, as one of the two best third-place teams. In Group B, Italy (1-1) and Germany (1-1) can both sneak through to the quarters if they win against Nigeria and Australia, respectively. Two victories, even in third place, would prove enough because either USA or Czech Republic is sure to just one victory in Group A. On Sunday, Argentina (0-2) faces Japan hoping to out-do the other third-place teams, while Spain and Slovenia face off to get the top seed from Group C.