Scola leads Argentina to Americas title

By Mike Monroe

MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina — By the final five minutes of Sunday’s FIBA Americas championship game, Spurs guard Manu Ginobili had a thick band of tape covering a gash on the bridge of his nose.

His teammate, Houston Rockets power forward Luis Scola, had a butterfly Band-Aid covering a cut on his left eyelid.

His legs so rubbery from having played six games in seven nights, Ginobili missed three of four from the free-throw line in the final 16.6 seconds, a rarity for the 90 percent shooter that the Spurs trust on the charity stripe in the final seconds of tight games.

When Scola finally secured an 80-75 victory for Argentina over archrival Brazil by making two free throws with less than a second remaining, Ginobili and the rest of the Argentine team found the energy to join their countrymen and sing along in a raucous chorus that filled the arena. Translated, the refrain went: “Go, go Argentina; go everyone to win; this group ? never stops supporting you.”

His gold medal still around his neck 30 minutes later, powder blue and white confetti still trapped in his thinning hair, the 34-year-old Spurs star encapsulated his feelings after achieving the goal he and his teammates had set for themselves this summer.

“Now it is a mix between exhaustion and excitement and happiness, of course,” said Ginobili, who scored only eight points on 2-for-9 shooting, including going 0 for 3 from 3-point range. “We’ve been together for 45 days just to accomplish this.

“It was not easy to play today. Yesterday (an 81-79 semifinal victory over Puerto Rico on Saturday that secured Argentina’s spot in the 2012 Olympic Games in London) was very tiring and emotional. Once we got that goal, coming here we made one further step, so we are very, very happy.”

Sunday’s victory was not much easier than the one on Saturday, which wasn’t secured until a last-second 3-point attempt by Puerto Rico’s J.J. Barea fell off the rim.

Ahead by 11 with just 46.6 seconds remaining, Argentina let the lead dwindle to 77-75 as Carlos Delfino, Guillermo Kammerichs and Ginobili missed four of six free throws, and Brazil scored on each ensuing possession.

Ginobili missed one of two free throws with 5.1 seconds left to give Brazil an opportunity to tie with a 3-pointer, but an errant pass ended up in Scola’s hands.

Fouled with six-tenths of a second remaining, Scola made both free throws, and the celebration began.

Scola was 12 of 18 from the field and scored 32 points, earning Most Valuable Player honors for the tournament. He led the tournament in scoring, averaging 21.4 points in 10 games.

Scola and Ginobili were named to the all-tournament team along with Brazilian point guard Marcelo Huertas, Dominican Republic center Al Horford and Puerto Rico guard Carlos Arroyo.

Spurs center Tiago Splitter, his playing time limited once again by foul trouble, made 5 of 10 shots and scored 12 points with five rebounds for Brazil.

“I think we played hard in this game,” Splitter said. “We tried to win, even though we got our goal yesterday to go to the Olympic Games. We made a heck of an effort to win this game, and I think you have to congratulate everybody who gave a lot to this team. We are very happy.”

As players from both teams congratulated one another at game’s end, Splitter and Ginobili shared a hug and mutual congratulations.

“He told me it was a hell of a game and we made them give an extra effort to try to win,” Splitter said. “We congratulated each other to be in the Olympic Games.”

Argentina’s Luis Scola, left, Brazil’s Tiago Splitter collide in their FIBA Americas Championship final in Mar del Plata, Argentina on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

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