Dirk Nowitzki and Germany nearly eliminated two-time reigning Olympic silver medalist Spain from Olympic men’s basketball qualifying, falling 77-76 at EuroBasket in Berlin on Thursday.
The Germans rallied from deficits of 13 points with 6:37 left and seven points with 56 seconds left of the group-play game that ended up being an elimination game.
The winner would advance to the European Olympic qualifying tournament round of 16. The loser would not only be done at EuroBasket, but also not finish in third through seventh place overall, which is necessary for an automatic berth in the global, last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament in July.
The top two at EuroBasket earn spots in the 12-team 2016 Olympic basketball tournament.
Down 77-74 on Thursday, Germany and Atlanta Hawks guard Dennis Schroeder was fouled while shooting a three-pointer with three seconds left. He made the first two free throws but missed the third that would have likely sent the game to overtime.
The loss is widely viewed as Dirk Nowitzki‘s final international game, though Germany could be awarded one of three wild-card places in the global, last-chance tournament in July by FIBA.
Preference for those wild-card places is expected to be given to higher-placing teams in continental Olympic qualifiers, though. Germany’s finish outside the top 16 in EuroBasket will not help its case, if it makes one.
This asterisk is why a Spain loss to Germany might not have derailed its Olympic hopes entirely, and why reigning Olympic bronze medalist Russia may also get a second chance to qualify for Rio after it was eliminated in EuroBasket group play.
Nowitzki, 37, led Germany at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, where it failed to reach the quarterfinals in its only Olympic appearance since 1992. Nowitzki memorably shaved the Olympic rings into the side of his hair before the Games and carried the German flag in the Opening Ceremony.
After the game, Nowitzki was given a standing ovation by the Berlin arena crowd (video here).
Spain survived and advanced without four of its star NBA players — Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, Serge Ibaka and Jose Calderon — all sitting out EuroBasket for various reasons but who could return for the Rio Olympics. Its only stalwart on the EuroBasket roster is Pau Gasol.
Spain’s road to Olympic qualification at EuroBasket will not get easier. It is in the same half of the knockout bracket as undefeated France, whose roster includes NBA players Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw and Rudy Gobert.
Spain and France could meet in the semifinals next Thursday with the winner receiving an Olympic berth and the loser forced to the global, last-chance qualifying tournament in July.
France beat Spain 65-52 in the 2014 FIBA World Cup quarterfinals, a tournament won by the U.S. to clinch the first Rio 2016 Olympic berth. Brazil, Australia and Nigeria have since been added to the Olympic field, with two more teams to join them from FIBA Americas on Friday.
The other half of the EuroBasket round of 16 bracket includes reigning World silver medalist Serbia and Lithuania, a traditional power that finished fourth at Worlds in 2014.
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