By: Jack Maloney, NBA International
Now that the final buzzer has sounded in the last group stage game, the field has narrowed from 12 teams to eight, and the quarterfinal matchups have been set. The four teams moving on from Group A, will be the United States (5-0), Australia (4-1), France (3-2), and Serbia (2-3). Meanwhile in Group B, there was a four way tie at the top, as four teams finished at 3-2. Following tiebreakers, the teams moving on will be, in order, Croatia, Spain, Lithuania, and Argentina.
These eight surviving teams will hit the court again on Wednesday, as all four quarterfinal matchups will take place on the same day in an exciting quadruple-header from Rio. Here’s what to watch for.
Australia (4-1, 2nd in Group A) vs. Lithuania (3-2, 3rd in Group B), 10:00 AM EST
Andrew Bogut wasn’t a guarantee to play this summer after injuring his leg in the NBA Finals just two months ago, but boy are the Australians glad he was fit. He burst out of the gates with an 18-point performance to lead them over France in the opening game of the Olympics. The Aussies haven’t slowed down from there cruising to a 4-1 record in group play, falling only to the U.S. in a game that Australia lead with nine minutes left, and had within four in the final two minutes.
Patty Mills has been red hot, pouring in 20.5 points per game, one of only three players to average over 20 a night in the group phase. And the team has followed suit, scoring 88.8 points a game, second only to the Americans so far in Rio. Joe Ingles and company might not be the flashiest squad in Brazil, but they can put the ball in the basket, and have been the second most impressive team thus far.
Standing in between Australia and their first trip to the semifinals since 2000, are the Lithuanians. Lead by Mantas Kalnietis (tournament’s fifth leading scorer) and Toronto Raptors big man Jonas Valanciunas, The Baltic Giants are looking to avenge their disappointing eighth place finish in London, which was the first time in the country’s history in which they fell short of the semifinal stage.
Lithuania moves into the quarterfinals at 3-2, despite holding a -36 point differential, the fourth worst mark in the group stage. Their troubles have come on both ends of the floor, as they’ve scored just 78.4 points per game, while allowing 85.6 points per game, both of which are the worst marks of any teams in the quarterfinals. Their defense will need to step up in a big way against the potent Australians if they want to avoid falling in the quarterfinals for the second straight Olympics.
Spain (3-2, 2nd in Group B) vs. France (3-2, 3rd in Group A), 1:30 PM EST
The second game of the day features a border battle between two European powers, as Spain meets France. The two have racked up awards in recent years, as Spain has won silver in the last two Olympics, while France took home the Bronze in the 2014 FIBA World Cup. This time around, one will have to go home in the quarterfinal stage.
Both teams enter the meeting a respectable 3-2, but neither has had an easy road. Spain fell to Croatia in their opening game, and needed to beat Argentina on Monday to avoid being eliminated, while France were crushed by Australia in their first appearance, and needed a Tony Parker game winner to saved them from defeat against Serbia. Still, both teams have looked very strong at times, as Spain blasted Lithuania away by 50, and the French fell to the U.S. by just three points.
The two teams know each other very well, as they met in the knockout phase of the 2012 Olympics (a 66-59 win by Spain), and have over a dozen current and former NBA players between the two rosters–a few of whom are either current or former teammates.
Wednesday’s match figures to be another closely contested affair, as these two continue their rivalry in perhaps the most anticipated game of the quarterfinal stage.
USA (5-0, 1st in Group A) vs. Argentina (3-2, 4th in Group B), 5:45 PM EST
12 years ago in Athens, Argentina shocked the United States in the semifinals behind 29 points from Manu Ginobili, preventing the U.S. from winning their fourth straight gold medal. The Argentines then went on to take the gold in 2004 for their first ever men’s basketball medal. Now, over a decade later, Ginobili is still leading the way for Argentina, as their golden generation makes one last Olympic run. And once again, they’ll have a chance to stop the Americans in their tracks.
Interestingly enough, the U.S. have not looked this vulnerable since back in 2004. They won their last two group stage games by just three points each, and were pushed to the brink in the game prior, pulling away for a 10-point win over Australia in a game that was never that comfortable. In comparison, in 2008 and 2012 combined, the U.S. won only one group stage game by fewer than 17 points.
The veteran Argentinian squad has been impressive on the offensive end, with four players (Facundo Campazzo, Andres Nocioni, Manu Ginobili, and Luis Scola) among the top 13 in scoring for the tournament, while the team finished the group stage third in scoring at 88.2 points per game. But of course the Americans are quite adept at scoring the ball themselves, pouring in a group-stage best 104.8 points per game. Both teams were also among the top three in three-point shooting during the group phase, so there should be no shortage of points on Wednesday.
On paper, Argentina, despite numerous current and former NBA players, is less talented than the American bunch lead by Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Carmelo Anthony. For that reason, the U.S. will be favorites to advance, but if there was ever a year for Manu and company to find one last heroic victory up their sleeves, this might be it.
Croatia (3-2, 1st in Group B) vs. Serbia (2-3, 4th in Group A), 9:15 PM EST
Despite a -7 point differential over the first five games, the Croatians found themselves in Group B’s top spot as we move into the quarterfinal stage. There were three other teams tied at 3-2 in the group, but the Croatians took the top spot after the tiebreakers, thanks in large part to their upset victory over Spain in their first game.
It has been quite an interesting few days for the Croatians, who at times (win over Spain) have looked like medal contenders, and at other times (shocking loss to Nigeria) have barely looked worthy of being in Rio. It’s fitting then, that they would meet Serbia, a side that has also had an interesting tournament. They’re the only team to enter the quarterfinals under .500, but have looked as impressive as any squad in Rio. They fell to France on a late Tony Parker game winner, and were an open three at the buzzer from pushing the U.S. to overtime.
Between Bojan Bogdanovic (the tournament’s leading scorer), Dario Saric, Mario Hezonja, Milos Teodosic, Nikola Jokic, and Miroslav Raduljica, there will be no shortage of talent, nor flair, on the court. This is one of the most fascinating matchups going into the quarterfinals, and could very well wind up being one of the games of the tournament.