The Olympics wait for no man — not even Ryan Lochte — so it should come as no surprise that just as quickly as the anticipation built for Wednesday’s quadruple-header quarterfinal in the men’s basketball tournament, it had dissipated.
First on the docket, Australia vs. Lithuania, or the team using the philosophy of being pricks against the team “led” by the Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas. I use quotations here because, well, things did not go well for Lithuania in general, or JV specifically. His home country got dismantled on the court to the score of 90-64, while his line read out as a sad footnote (5 points, 8 rebounds, -22 in efficiency) to the action. On top of that, Jonas’ eternal nemesis Aron Baynes went off for 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting.
Afterwards, Jonas said to John Schuhmann of NBA.com: “I was pretty bad. I got to do something with my head.” Yikes.
Our second game on the day was a continuation of the storied rivalry between France and Spain. Both teams have a gaggle of NBA players, but both are also going through a transition of sorts with some bigger (and older) name players on their way out (Pau Gasol, Jose Calderon, Tony Parker, Boris Diaw) and younger guys ready to step in (Nikola Mirotic, Rudy Gobert).
Unfortunately, this spiritual passing of the torch didn’t translate into a competitive game as Spain trounced all over France 92-67. It’s not a little surprising to see Spain able to handle France without their key big man Marc Gasol, to say nothing of the plain fact that Mirotic turned out to be the game’s leading scorer with 23 points. (And also, that there was no renewed violence between Nicolas Batum and Juan Carlos Navarro.) Such is life.
Now we get to the emotional — if not competitive -- high point of the day, Argentina vs. Team USA.
After bouncing out to a 19-9 first quarter lead, it looked as though Argentina’s golden generation, led by the ageing wunderkind Manu Ginobili, would if not prevail than at least give USA a serious test. It was the Cinderella story we were all hoping for, deep down.
Uh, about that.
Kevin Durant puts Nocioni on skates, Boogie Cousins tries to imitate https://t.co/la8ry3tlqL— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) August 17, 2016
You can try your best and still be faced with the prospect of playing against 7-foot men with octopus arms and gazelle legs and a killer instinct and the softest touch on the planet. I mean, just gotdamn and good luck. Team USA won easily 105-78. (For their parts, Raptors Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan played 23 and 8 minutes respectively, and chipped in 5 and 6 points.)
Still, the story is not entirely without a happy ending. As Bruce Arthur wrote today in the Star, there was a beautiful sendoff for the Argentinians — a lovable and plucky group that had hung together for a solid decade and a half, winning at both the 2002 world championships and a 2004 gold medal. In this era of hegemonic USA reign in basketball, this remains quite the feat.
Finally, we get to the main event and the only suspenseful game of basketball on the day. Yes, we’re talking about best of friends Croatia and Serbia. Were things heated? Hmmmm.
Dario Saric taking out his frustration on Nikola Jokic pic.twitter.com/g2O9JiC0hn— max (@MaxRappaport) August 18, 2016
My favourite part of this clip isn’t the animus on display from Dario Saric, it’s the clear moment when Nikola Jokic decides he’s going to turn this little shove into a performance worthy of some kind of acting award (or maybe a medal in Olympic tumbling). I mean, look at my dude go here; this is a large professional athlete who decides to somehow stumble from the key, out to the three point line, before then falling on his ass and sliding out of bounds.
This is some serious insult to injury material here as Jokic’s Serbian team managed to squeak out an 86-83 win against their natural rival. Also, in something of a “winning the battle but losing the war” situation, it also delights me to inform you that in the Battle of Bogdanovic it was Bojan, of Croatia and the Brooklyn Nets, who came out on top. His 28 points on 7-of-15 shooting outpaced the other Bogdanovic (Bogdan) of Serbia, who put in a mere 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Such tough ups and downs for the day.
In any case, the four remaining teams have the day off today but will be back in action on Friday the 19th for the semifinals. The matchups: Team USA vs. Spain at 2:30, followed by Australia vs. Serbia at 6pm.
Set your clocks and get ready.