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SAITAMA (FIBA World Championship) – Spain survived in a thriller against Argentina to reach the final of the FIBA World Championship for the first time in their history.
Looking to join Greece, who beat Team USA earlier in the day, Spain's Jose Manuel Calderon made just one of two free throws with 19 seconds left to give his side a 75-74 lead but that left Argentina, the Olympic champions, with plenty of time to score.
Rather than taking a timeout, Argentina's Manu Ginobili dribbled the ball up the floor and knifed his way into the lane.
With time running down, Ginobili passed to Andres Nocioni in the right corner and the forward had an open look but only drew iron.
As the teams fought for the rebound, time expired to secure victory for Spain.
The win came at a cost for Spain as superstar power forward Pau Gasol injured his left foot and missed the closing minutes of the contest.
As Spain’s players celebrated, Gasol, who finished with 19 points, 11 rebounds, two assists and three blocked shots, was helped off the bench by his younger brother Marc and both cried.
The big power forward was put into a wheelchair and taken to the changing room still in tears before being driven to hospital for X-Rays.
"This is a very bitter victory considering Pau's injury," said Calderon. "Of course we know what we have achieved today and hopefully tomorrow we will get good news regarding Pau's condition."
As for his late miss at the free throw line, Calderon said: "I've had a bad day shooting free throws.
"But the important thing was to make at least one and that, fortunately, has allowed us to win."
Spain trailed by as many as 11 points in the first half but fought back to take a 40-38 lead at the interval.
Two and a half minutes into the fourth quarter, Gasol’s dunk gave Spain their biggest lead at 65-56 and they looked to be on their way.
Pepe Sanchez replied immediately with a three-pointer, and Nocioni added a three-point play to bring the South Americans back.
Spain still had a 69-64 lead with Ginobili pulled up with 2:53 and nailed one of his four three-pointers on the night to make it 69-67.
When Juan Carlos Navarro hit a jump shot in the lane and Gasol made a pair from the charity stripe, Spain were back in front by 73-67.
Sanchez, a team-mate of Spaniards Jorge Garbajosa, Carlos Cabezas and Berni Rodriguez at ACB champions Unicaja Malaga last season, buried a shot from the arc with 1:29 to play and the lead was three.
After Calderon made one of two at the stripe, Ginobili set the stage for a frantic finish with a jumper in the lane to close the gap to 74-72.
Argentina’s next possession saw Ginobili miss from the arc but Luis Scola was fouled after grabbing the offensive rebound and sank two free throws to tie the game.
Argentina took a timeout and decided to make their opponents go to the free throw line instead of letting them hold for one shot.
Calderon again split two, giving the Argentinians the opportunity to win but Nocioni was off the mark with his last attempt.
For much of the game, Argentina had lived by the three-pointer, making 13 in all. At the end, they died by the three-pointer.
Sanchez embraced his Unicaja Malaga team-mates and then spoke of his huge disappointment.
"It was an evenly matched game," he said. "It all came down to the last shot.
"Obviously we’re all disappointed because we came here to win the championship. Now we’ll try to win the bronze medal and do our best in that one."
Garbajosa and Sergio Rodriguez were in good form for the Spaniards, scoring 19 and 14 points, respectively.
Rodriguez and Rudy Fernandez were the keys in Spain’s first-half comeback, coming off the bench to quicken the tempo and score nine and four points.
Fernandez had his two baskets in transition on dunks, while Rodriguez showed a quality in his game which bodes well for his rookie season in the NBA next year with Portland.
Spain also got a big game from their captain Carlos Jimenez who had nine rebounds to go with his four points.
Ginobili led all scorers with 21 points on but was just six of 21 from the field, including four of nine from the arc. He also made five of six free throws.
Nocioni finished with 15 points while Sanchez, who made three of four shots from long range, had 13.By Jeff Taylor