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Russia beat Spain in battle of unbeatens
LONDON (Reuters) - Russia roared back from a 20-2 deficit to beat Spain 77-74 after a crucial free throw miss by Pau Gasol, seizing the upper hand for a critical seeding advantage at the Olympic men's basketball tournament on Saturday.
The victory between the previously unbeaten teams of Group B gave Russia (4-0) the inside track with one preliminary round left to win the group and ensure a path to a possible gold medal game against the defending United States.
The see-saw struggle came down to the last seconds.
Gasol went to the foul line for two shots with Spain trailing 75-73 and 5.3 seconds left on the clock.
After a Russia timeout to give the Los Angeles Lakers NBA All-Star time to ponder his task, Gasol hit the back rim and missed his first attempt. After making the second the world's second-ranked Spaniards trailed 75-74.
Russia's Vitaliy Fridzon was fouled immediately after the inbounds pass and made his two shots from the charity stripe for the final total. He led all scorers with 24 points.
There was still 4.8 seconds left when Spain inbounded, but the ball came to Marc Gasol in the backcourt and he was not able to set up a desperation shot for Spain (3-1).
"It was a shame I wasn't able to score the two free throws which would have put us in contention," said Pau Gasol, who had made his previous four foul shots. Spain missed only two of 19 free throws in the game.
"It was a great game," said Russia's American coach David Blatt, who credited assistant coach Dmitry Shakulin for suggesting he use a timeout to try and disturb Gasol before the key free throws.
Spain, coming back from a lacklustre victory over Britain, came out on fire, scoring the first 10 points on the way to a massive 20-2 lead.
The Russians patiently clawed their way back, and when Fridzon and his team mates started finding the mark with their jump shots they went on a 12-4 run that helped get them to intermission trailing by just 40-32.
Russia limited Spain to only 12 points in the second quarter and 13 in the third quarter as they surged to a 56-53 lead.
The momentum swung back to Spain at the start of the fourth as the 2008 silver medallists used a 16-4 burst to lead 69-60.
A three-pointer by Victor Khryapa tied it at 73-73 with a minute to go and Timofey Mozgov's slam dunk put Russia ahead by two with 18 seconds left before Pau Gasol was sent to the line.
"Today, they killed us. Those three of them. They were extremely effective," Spain's Italian coach Sergio Scariolo said, singling out Fridzon, Anton Ponkrashov and Khryapa.
Ranked just 11th by the International Basketball Federation, Russia overcame Spain because of their team play, according to 31-year-old forward Andrei Kirilenko.
"I think our team has a face, our own face," said Kirilenko, who played 10 years with the NBA's Utah Jazz.
"We're playing hard. We don't have a lot of shooters, but I think we can do a lot of things together as a team. We stay in as a team and that's why we keep grinding those wins." (Editing by Matt Falloon)
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