Classy Gasol gives Spain winning start

PANEVEZYS, Lithuania – Holders Spain managed to edge out Poland 83-78 thanks to an inspired performance from Pau Gasol in Group A on the opening day of the European basketball championship on Wednesday.

The 31-year-old power forward, who steered Spain to the 2009 title in Poland, stepped up with some crucial plays in the last two minutes when their unfancied rivals threatened to stun the favorites in the 24-team Eurobasket tournament.

France point guard Tony Parker was the day’s other top performer After driving his team to a roller coaster 89-78 win over Latvia in Group B.

The big winners were 2009 runners-up Serbia, who saw off former champions Italy 80-68 in the same group.

Spain seemed to be cruising after Gasol scored 11 of their opening 13 points but the stubborn Poles refused to lie down and forced a dramatic finish on the back of 19 points from point guard Lukasz Koszarek and 18 by American-born Thomas Kelati.

“We played well for three quarters and then let them back in after we relaxed a bit too much and lost some defensive rebounds,” Spain’s Italian coach Sergio Scariolo told a news conference.

“We showed nerves and our concentration was inconsistent, which is typical when you are under all the pressure to win the opening game of the tournament and the most important thing is that we got off to a good start,” he said.

Gasol finished with a game-high 29 points and seven rebounds, having received good support from his younger brother Marc, who had 16 points and seven rebounds, as well as point guard Juan Carlos Navarro who added 23 points. (Reuters)

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