The Hernángomez brothers, with Willy the MVP of the tournament and Juancho’s seven three-pointers, led the Spanish national team (88-76) to its fourth Eurobasket title this week. Although Spain has been a very consistent top contender for international basketball titles, its 2022 gold medal is one of its most surprising feats to date. Seven of the players under coach Sergio Scariolo had never before reached the finals of a major tournament. France, Spain’s opponent in the final, was left scratching their heads. Juancho Hernángomez consistently made well-defended three-pointers, and there was little France could do.
Part of the surprise was that Spain was playing without the Gasol brothers, two big men who have had perhaps the biggest impact on the Spanish national team in its history. Spain started the match with nerves of steel, playing as if this untested squad had played a multitude of finals in the past. None were intimidated by the stakes or the stage, and Pradilla, Fernández, and Aróstegui played fantastically alongside the Hernángomez brothers. There was little France’s NBA All-Stars Gobert or Fournier could do.
How it went down
Already in the first few possessions, France looked uncomfortable, and Gobert was not so dominant. The base of their basketball was cut short by Spain’s constant pick and roll assists, hands that came out of nowhere, and suffocating defence. Lorenzo Brown provided space and Willy Hernángomez was not afraid of the French big men. Jaime Fernandez emerged, in his moment of the tournament, with three steals to start, and five points that launched Spain.
The second quarter was the height of the frenzy. Juancho Hernangómez was unleashed like the promising star he has been all his career. He grabbed the responsibility as if he were the protagonist of his own film and Hustled to six three-pointers. With two more along the way, one in front of Gobert and another in the middle from Brizuela (Spain went 9-for-14 from the perimeter), and with defences that were getting on Collet’s men’s nerves, Spain was playing lights out.
When Willy scored once more over Gobert, they led by 21 (47-26). Only a last burst of French self-respect, an 11-0 run to close the second act led by Fournier, prevented them from going in dead at half-time. France had fallen into the same trap as Lithuania or Germany, enchanted by Scariolo’s spells and the enthusiasm of his pupils. But it was alive. It knew it had taken the best punch from its rival and was still standing. On the return, much fiercer in defence, they increased the lead (2-20), with Yabusele doing damage in the zone. Spain had been unravelling like when a puzzle is put together, and all the pieces start to fall out, but Scariolo always has an answer.
After his time-out, another face of the national team, a 9-0 run by Jaime Fernández, closed out the game. Perhaps he had been one of the few who had not raised his voice yet in the European Championship, always a silent killer. But he came out on top with two three-pointers and a steal in the midfield of those that acted as a dagger for any last hopes of the French team. Lack of experience aside, Spain deserved it from start to finish.