Former Utah Jazz player Ricky Rubio had an incredible game as he lead his Spain team to a statement victory over Serbia in their final contest of FIBA group play.
Just last week, I found myself throwing out the idea that Serbia could very well be building a case as the new favorite in the FIBA Basketball World Cup. Time will tell whether or not the United States got that memo and decides to use it as motivation, but one thing is for certain – Spain most certainly did.
In what was viewed by many as a battle of the two biggest heavyweights of the tournament outside of Team USA, Spain and Serbia hit the hardwood on Sunday. Both teams came into the bout undefeated, but Serbia had been absolutely torching opponents, which led many to believe that perhaps they’d have the edge, not just against Spain but in the entire tournament.
I was one that could see that being a real feasibility, but also pointed out that outside of a game against Italy, Serbia’s competition had been pretty lackluster up to this point. The fact that they were toppled by Spain seems to back up that argument pretty soundly. After all, while it’s true that no two games are the same, Team USA in spite of all its weaknesses, still managed to take care of Spain quite handily in exhibition play, so perhaps painting Serbia as a favorite was pretty premature.
But leaving Team USA out of this entirely, let’s focus instead on what was a dazzling battle between the Spanish and Serbian squads. Principally, what commands the most attention is likely the absolute dominance displayed by former Utah Jazz player and fan favorite to a large portion of the fanbase Ricky Rubio.
Initially, the game started out with Serbia coming out of the gates hot and looking like they may be able to take care of business against Spain as they have with every other opponent thus far. After the opening period, Serbia led by a count of 20-13. However, Spain turned things around in a big way from there. They went off for a whopping 32 points in the second quarter, outscoring Serbia 32-17, then outscored them in both remaining periods in the second half.
That dominant second quarter set the pace for an eventual commanding victory of 81-69, handing Serbia their first defeat of the tournament.
Spain’s win came largely thanks to the heroic play of Ricky Rubio who played with an immense amount of passion and sparked his squad on to victory. Rubio finished with a team-high 19 points as well as five rebounds, four assists and a steal. Rubio clearly wanted to earn this W and prove Spain’s place as one of the world’s most dominant squads as he could be seen beating his chest and reacting with euphoria all along the way to victory.
The emotion and performance he showed were akin to his exuberance in the 2018 Playoff Series between the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder, a matchup Jazz fans will remember fondly. Ricky Rubio played incredibly against Russell Westbrook and was a key reason why Utah arose victorious. Rubio won over the Jazz fanbase in that series with his unrelenting hustle, passion and effectiveness.
However, as so often was the case with Rubio during his time as a Jazzman, he wasn’t exactly ultra efficient in the contest against Serbia as he shot just 5-of-13 from the field. However, that included going 2-of-3 from the perimeter and his aggression paid off wildly as he went a prolific 7-of-7 from the foul line.
It was a classic performance from Ricky who has been so good throughout his career in international play and enjoyed so many big and memorable moments with the Jazz during the course of the past two seasons. His heroics helped Spain overcome 26 points from Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic of the Sacramento Kings while NBA All-Star Nikola Jokic was largely held in check by Spain’s Marc Gasol and Co.
With the victory, Spain will move into the elimination round undefeated atop Group J and will take on Poland in the quarter-finals on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Serbia will face Argentina in what should be another exhilarating battle.
A lot could happen between now and the end of the FIBA Basketball World Cup, but it’s entirely possible that Donovan Mitchell and Team USA could end up playing both Serbia and Spain before the tournament’s end. Considering that USA beat Spain in exhibition play who in turn beat Serbia, the Americans ought to feel confident about their chances.
Nevertheless, their biggest enemy may very well be complacency, which is something they’ll have to avoid. No doubt Rubio and the rest of his Spain teammates along with the other fierce competitors remaining in FIBA play will be determined to oust a vulnerable United States squad and take home the trophy for their respective country.