Victorious Argentines happy to have day off

By Mike Monroe

MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina — Manu Ginobili’s long march through the second round of the FIBA Americas Olympic qualifying tournament here is over, and just in time.

Playing on tired legs after four games in four days, the Spurs guard had 17 points and five assists as Argentina scored a 84-58 victory over the Dominican Republic on the final day of the second phase of a tournament that is as much marathon as test of basketball skills.

Each team played four games in five days in the first round. After a single day off, the second round required four games in four days.

There are no games today, and few players are more grateful than Ginobili.

“For our team it is important,” said Ginobili. “For me it is huge. I am not used to playing back-to-back-to-back-to-back. I was exhausted and had no legs at all, as you could tell.

“I’m just glad that we were able to extend our lead (early in the fourth quarter) while I was on the bench so I didn’t have to play 35 minutes.”

Up by nine entering the fourth period, Argentina’s Carlos Delfino scored eight unanswered points in the first 1:40 of the period to give his team some breathing space.

“We are a 32-year-old average team, so we can use the day off,” said Rockets forward Luis Scola. “Saturday, for sure, everybody will be ready to go.”

Brazil’s 94-72 victory over Puerto Rico on Thursday earned top seed in the semifinals, meaning it will face the Dominicans. Argentina will play Puerto Rico. Spurs center Tiago Splitter scored 17 points in three quarters of an easy victory, and sat the fourth period.

The winners of Saturday’s games will be assured berths in the 2012 Olympics in London, regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s championship game.

Canada’s quest for an Olympic berth ended Thursday when Denver Nuggets guard Gary Forbes, playing for Panama, scored 39 points to lead his team to its only victory of the second round, 91-89.

Canada, with Spurs draftee Cory Joseph scoring four points, needed a victory and a loss by Venezuela to finish fifth in the tournament and advance to next summer’s play-in tournament.

“I just wanted to play this one loose and do what I could do get a victory for our team in this round,” said Forbes, who made eight of 13 3-point shots. “We had to take this victory back to our country.”

Ginobili saves day, lifts Argentina

By Mike Monroe

MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina — With a berth in the 2012 Olympics on the line and down by eight points to Puerto Rico early in the third quarter, Manu Ginobili felt something in his gut he had not experienced in six years.

“It can be compared only to (NBA Finals) Game 7 in 2005,” said Ginobili, who helped the Spurs come from behind against the Detroit Pistons to win the NBA championship that year.

The star guard was at it again on Saturday, sparking a rally for Argentina that produced an 81-79 victory at Malvinas Argentinas Arena in the semifinals of the FIBA Americas Olympic qualifying tournament.

As he had for the Spurs in the second half of that Game 7 in San Antonio, Ginobili fueled Argentina in the third quarter. This time, he made four 3-pointers in a stretch of less than five minutes, erasing Puerto Rico’s lead and setting up Argentina’s victory.

In the end, it took an errant 3-pointer by Puerto Rico’s J.J. Barea of the Dallas Mavericks at the final buzzer before Ginobili could savor victory.

“It was one of the toughest games I’ve ever played,” he said, “a game where you have no tomorrow, no revenge.

“Imagine what it would have been like to be eliminated at home in front of these amazing fans, my family and friends. It would have been really, really tough, probably one of the toughest losses of my career. So when I saw Barea’s shot hit the rim, I was so emotional. I lifted a big, huge backpack off my side.”

Ginobili scored only four points in the first half but had 19 in the second, with 12 of them coming on his 3-pointers in the third period. Overall, he made 6 of 7 shots from deep range.

Ginobili called the Olympic berth “an obligation” he and his teammates had made for themselves when they gathered for training camp for the tournament.

“We had everything on this, and we won our trip to London. Everything is beautiful. We have another game (today) and we want another championship. I haven’t won one since 2007.”

Argentina will play Brazil — an 83-76 winner over Dominican Republic in the other semifinal — in today’s championship match.

Spurs center Tiago Splitter, in foul trouble all game, played barely 11 minutes in the Olympic-clinching game. He scored only three points to go with three rebounds. In the end, it didn’t matter that he had a sub-par game.

“Personally, I didn’t make my best performance, but I am very happy,” he said. “This is something that I needed in my life, to play in the Olympic Games, not just for me, but also for Brazil basketball.”

FIBA Americas: Ginobili, Argentina roll over Uruguay

By Mike Monroe

MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina — Spurs guard Manu Ginobili made only three baskets in Argentina’s 86-51 thumping of Uruguay on Thursday, but Spurs fans will be delighted to know two of them were emphatic dunks.

The spring appears to be back in Ginobili’s legs, even after a hard, month-long training camp.

“I’m feeling great,” Ginobili said. “The team is doing good. We had a long month of training camp where we practice twice a day almost every day. I am feeling good and in great shape.

“The team is rolling, so I have no complaints.”

All three Spurs-connected players in the event were in action on the second day of the FIBA Americas tournament, which will qualify the top two teams for the 2012 Olympics in London. Center Tiago Splitter helped Brazil hang on for a 69-57 victory over Canada, with Spurs draftee Cory Joseph playing 24 minutes for Team Canada.

Splitter scored only five points, but had 10 rebounds and three assists.

Joseph made 4 of 10 shots and scored eight points, with two assists.

Ginobili’s presence was needed in Argentina’s victory for only 16 minutes and 17 seconds Thursday, but he used them efficiently. The two-time NBA All-Star had seven points, two rebounds, two steals and two assists.

The fun of playing on his national team, Ginobili said, is in the passing.

“I am having a lot of fun setting up my teammates,” he said. “Especially against these kind of teams, you don’t need to score 20 or 30 points. We have enormous talents, especially offensively. Sometimes I’m playing with players, like (Andres) Nocioni, who are great scorers. If I find them open, they’re going to finish, so I’m enjoying it.

“There is no better team, and everybody on our team is feeling good about themselves.”

Houston Rockets big man Luis Scola scored 18 points to lead the Argentines.

Splitter said Brazil’s two close encounters should steel the team for the elimination round beginning Sept. 5.

“The two close games we didn’t expect, but we know that now is the time to play,” he said. “Now the games really matter, but I think today we figured out how to defend better. That is our key. Coach (Ruben) Magnano wants us to have good defense and then run the fast break.”

The Dominican Republic, coached by Kentucky’s John Calipari, also improved to 2-0 as did Brazil and Puerto Rico.

Al Horford, who plays for the Atlanta Hawks, had 19 points for the Dominican Republic in a 92-89 win over Venezuela.

At the European Championship, Spurs guard Tony Parker had 31 points Wednesday to help France beat Latvia 89-78 in Siauliai, Lithuania.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.