BEIJING (Olympics) – Argentina didn’t have injured star Manu Ginobili but Leonardo Gutierrez and Paolo Quinteros filled the void as the South Americans beat Lithuania to capture the Olympic bronze medal on Sunday.
With Ginobili looking on from the bench wearing a pair of jeans and an Argentina polo shirt, Gutierrez and Quinteros combined for 15 points in the first half and 22 overall in an 87-75 victory.
“With Manu out, we knew that we needed something else,” said Argentina star Luis Scola.
“I spoke to Paolo yesterday and I asked him he if he was ready and he said, ‘I'm always ready.’
“Many people don't know Leo but he has been very successful in our country, winning league titles, earning MVPs, he has been our man there.
“He was ready for the big shot. The strength that we have had in the last 10 years has been on other players stepping out in big games. Like in Athens, we had Walter Herrmann. I'm really proud of everybody."
Sergio Hernandez, the Argentina coach, beamed with pride in the press conference.
“We came in to this tournament as defending champions,” Hernandez said.
“We knew each game we have to defend that gold medal with our lives, but we know the best two teams are Spain and USA.
“To have won gold and bronze at the Olympic with the same team means a lot for a nation that has not a strong basketball tradition.
“We are not disappointed by this bronze medal but proud of what we have achieved.”
Lithuania beat the Argentinians on the opening day of the preliminary round with a Linas Kleiza three-ball 2.1 seconds from the end but Hernandez’s team hit back impressively to finish second in Group A.
After defeating Greece in a thrilling quarter-final, they fell behind by 21 points to the USA in their last four clash but clawed the deficit back to six before losing 101-81.
On Sunday, they trailed Lithuania 27-26 nearly three minutes into the second quarter when Gutierrez hit two straight threes and Quinteros followed with a third.
The 9-0 run put Argentina in front for good.
Argentina led by as many as 24 in the game before prevailing by 12.
"This is amazing what we have done,” said Andres Nocioni.
“We have shown why we are Argentina, the heart and character of this team. We have done a great job and no one can take away this medal from us.
“Now we have a month to rest before the NBA season starts and we are going to enjoy this moment and celebrate what we have done here."
Carlos Delfino had a game-high 20 points with Scola pouring in 16 and Nocioni 14.
For Lithuania, Ramunas Siskauskas scored 15 and Rimantas Kaukenas 14.
Ramunas Butautas, the Lithuania coach, said his players had tried to do their best but their exertions in the 91-86 semi-final defeat to Spain had left them tired.
“Congratulations to Argentina,” Butautas said.
“They played very well.
“The Argentinian players were much stronger and faster and they played well, especially on defense.”
Butautas had received good interior play in this tournament, despite the loss of Darius Songaila in the build-up to the Beijing Games to injury.
“We had a lot of problems around the basket,” Butautas said.
“We had a lot of problems on our offense.
“Argentina was better tonight. I'm very sorry for us.
“We dreamed about an Olympic medal but we lost this chance so maybe we will try again in the next Olympic Games."