Aussies irked by late calls as NBA’s Pau Gasol powers Spain to bronze medal triumph

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 August, 2016, 3:12am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 August, 2016, 5:45am

Australia missed out on its first Olympic men’s basketball medal by the narrowest of margins Sunday and ripped Serbian referee Ilija Belosevic for calling “soft fouls” that helped Spain capture bronze.

NBA star Pau Gasol scored 31 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to power Spain over Australia 89-88 in a thriller that went down to the final possession.

“It’s frustrating when their last four points come from the foul line on what you would term soft fouls,” Australia coach Andrej Lemanis said.

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The Spaniards grabbed a third consecutive podium finish after silver medals in 2008 and 2012, having lost each time in the championship game to the United States.

“Great result the way everything played out,” Gasol said.

“Just an incredible battle by two teams that really wanted to get an Olympic medal.”

Aussie Aron Baynes was whistled for a foul on Gasol with 28 seconds remaining and the Spaniard hit both free throws to put his team ahead 87-86.

Baynes sank a hook shot with 9.7 seconds remaining to put Australia back in front.

But then Patty Mills, who scored 30 points to lead the Boomers, was called for a blocking foul on Sergio Rodriguez as the guard drove to the hoop. The Spaniard hit two free throws to create the final margin.

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Australia had the final possession but lost the ball and could not get off a final shot before the buzzer sounded.

“It’s disappointing we weren’t able to get a shot away on that last possession to give ourselves a chance,” said Mills, whom the Aussies intended to take the final shot.

Lemanis, his voice cracking for a moment as he spoke of his team, underscored their frustration.

“They deserved to be rewarded with a medal. There’s a lot of disappointment and heartache in that locker room. We didn’t get the result we felt we deserved,” he said.

“It’s disappointing when they get their last four points at the line on no clear fouls and we’re having to create from the field.”

Aussie centre Andrew Bogut, who battled back from an NBA Finals knee injury to play in Rio, fouled out midway into the third quarter and was upset at the officiating.

“I’ll look back at the tape and see how obviously bad (the calls) were,” Bogut said.

He also said Mills should not have gotten called for the game’s crucial last foul.

“It’s unbelievable,” Bogut said. “You can just dive into guys recklessly and get calls like that. It’s tough to play like that.

“It felt like we were playing a different sport at times.”

Asked if he felt the call was correct, Rodriguez said, “I’d have to check on the screen, but that’s what the referee called. And I know during the game there were many fouls that the referee didn’t call for us and we said nothing.”

Mills said of the late foul against him, “It’s part of the game. Calls go your way sometimes and sometimes they don’t. Today they didn’t and we live with it.”

But later he hinted at harder feelings, saying, “It’s tough when you don’t want to say things you want to say.”

What was easy for Mills was to say how another medal near miss would impact the Boomers after matching fourth-place Olympic efforts in 1988, 1996 and 2000.

“It’s no longer belief in what we can do,” Mills said. “It’s knowing what we can do. It just adds fuel to the fire to come back next time and give it a good hard crack.”

Gasol offered post-game condolences to Mills, who will be his NBA teammate next season with the San Antonio Spurs.

“I told him after the game I look forward to playing with him in San Antonio,” Gasol said. “He’s a heck of a player. He plays with such quickness and explosiveness.”

The Spanish said part of the joy from the bronze medal was how hard they had to play the Aussies to take it.

“We’re proud and happy with this accomplishment,” Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said. “The value of the win is extremely high because of how hard we had to fight.”