At one point, it felt like Spain was going to race past Slovenia in their Olympic group-stage matchup. Rudy Fernandez was hitting threes, Ricky Rubio was having his way driving to the hoop, and with 6:27 left in the third quarter, Spain were ahead 57-45.
As many NBA teams have found out over the last few years, though, it’s hard to count out a team that includes Luka Doncic. Even though Doncic didn’t score particularly well, he was all over the floor grabbing rebounds, getting assists, and drawing fouls on anyone who dared defend him. By the end of that third quarter, Slovenia had cut the deficit to 70-68.
Slovenia even made it 72-70 early in the fourth quarter, but veteran-filled Spanish team continued to grind it out and claw their way back to a lead. There was plenty of basket trading in the final period, but it was still Spain who held an 82-79 lead with 4:46 left in the game.
Slovenia cut that to 82-81 with 4:15 left, then again grabbed the lead at 83-82 with 3:34 left in the game. However, Rubio had a quick answer to push it to 84-83 for Spain with another drive, then split free throws after to make it 85-83.
Zoran Dragic hit a huge three to switch it to an 86-85 lead for Slovenia with 2:35 left on the clock, which gave them the lead for good. The lead was pushed to 88-85 after a Klemen Prepelic alley-oop, putting the pressure on Spain with 1:39 left in the game. That play started with Doncic making an excellent pass to Mike Tobey from inside his own half, which allowed Tobey to quickly find Prepelic.
Rubio made it 88-87 with yet another layup, and Spain then stole the ball and forced a foul with 1:05 left, but Rubio was unable to convert in the paint to switch the lead.
With 13.4 seconds left, the Slovenians still held a slim 88-87 lead, and Prepelic made a pair of free throws to push it to 90-87. Slovenia closed the game with a 5-0 run that made the final scoreline 95-87.
Slovenia spread the scoring well, with five players hitting double figures and were led in that department by Vlatko Cancar, who finished with 22 points.
Doncic was definitely the star of the show, though. While he didn’t shoot the ball much and made only 2 of 7 shots along with 6 of 11 free throws for 12 points, he also had 14 rebounds, 9 assists and drew 11 crucial fouls on Spain’s defense.
The loss will be a tough pill for Spain to swallow, especially because they had a vintage game from Ricky Rubio, who had 18 points, 3 rebounds and 9 assists with only a single turnover. Unfortunately for them, Fernandez couldn’t get his shot going again before fouling out of the game, and they only had a couple of other players score in double figures.
The big win completes a perfect group stage for Slovenia, who along with France and Australia are among the only three teams to stay undefeated in the preliminary round.
Now, all eyes will be on who’s battling in the first elimination round. Doncic has been matched up with Germany in the quarterfinals, and if he makes it to the gold medal round, there’s a chance that he could be facing Team USA – should they also make it past the rest of the knockout games.