Pau Gasol has propelled Spain into the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro…
The 35-year-old Spanish basketball star had a double-double as Spain cruised past Lithuania 80-63 on Sunday to take the EuroBasket title.
Gasol, the European Basketball Championship MVP, helped Spain earn its third title in the last four tournaments after having to settle for bronze two years ago.
“It was an incredible championship,” Gasol said. “We went through struggles early on but the team responded well, and with our backs to the wall, we understood that we had to play better defense.”
With Spain’s King Felipe VI and tennis star Rafael Nadal in the stands, the final was a one-sided affair as the Spaniards opened a 13-point lead in the first quarter and were never really threatened.
Gasol finished with 25 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, three blocked shots, one steal and no turnovers to earn the tournament’s MVP award.
“It’s of special significance to play this well at this stage of my career after all I’ve accomplished,” said Gasol, the Chicago Bulls center who has two NBA championship rings with the Los Angeles Lakers. “It is something I will remember until the end of my life.
The victory completed a turnaround for Spain, which came to the tournament without Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Juan Carlos Navarro and Ricky Rubio and lost two of its first three games.
But with Gasol dominating, Spain raised its game when it mattered and looked impressive throughout the knockout stage. Gasol put his stamp on the final early, scoring eight straight points for Spain to lead 19-6.
That helped the team overcome the loss of influential guard Rudy Fernandez halfway into the third quarter when he was fouled by Robertas Javtokas. Fernandez fell to the ground, was helped off the floor while holding his left hip and did not return.
Spain and Lithuania booked direct slots to next year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Spain won the silver medal in the past two Olympics, and Gasol said he would be around once again if his body holds up.
Spain guard Sergio Rodriguez joined Gasol in the tournament’s all-star team.