LONDON — Spanish NBA stars blamed an 88-82 Olympic loss to Brazil on Monday on their own nagging inconsistency, not a deliberate desire to lose in order to postpone a possible playoff game against the US NBA stars.
Reigning European champion and World No. 2 Spain squandered an 11-point lead by fading in the final quarter to hand Brazil a victory that likely will send them to the Americans' half of the draw and Spain to the opposite half.
"This team always plays to win. Always," Spanish guard Jose Calderon of the NBA Toronto Raptors said. "We're never going to speculate about that. Never."
But speculation was rampant despite both teams denying they would give any less than their best and 2008 Olympic silver medallist Spain's poor finish to settle for a third seed did nothing to end the talk.
"Please, this is really -- I don't want to be disrespectful but this is not an intelligent issue to talk about," Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said.
"Knowing who I am, who my players are... this is not an intelligent issue we are discussing."
The controversy came in the wake of a badminton match-fixing scandal that saw eight women banished for not trying to win in order to avoid an early knockout-round match against a favoured duo that was upset in preliminaries.
But NBA Los Angeles Lakers big man Pau Gasol, who led Spain with 25 points, denied any misdeeds by his squad.
"It doesn't matter who we play. Quarter-finals is already tough," Gasol said. "Argentina or France. We respect both. The way we are playing either one can beat us. Right now it's not happening for us."
Spain fell to a Brazil side that lacked NBA Washington Wizards centre Nene Hilario, among the Olympic rebound and blocked shot leaders. Gasol blamed the inconsistency that saw Spain barely escape minnow Britain 79-78.
"We have to play for 40 minutes if we're going to achieve the results that we want to achieve," Gasol said. "We can't put it together for an entire game right now."
The South Americans left no doubt about whether or not they wanted to win when NBA standout Leandrinho Barbosa, who scored a game-high 23 points, hit two free throws and back-to-back 3-pointers to give Brazil the lead for the first time at 75-73 with 4:17 remaining.
Barbosa made a fast break layup and Anderson Varejao added a layup to cap a 12-3 Brazil run for an 84-76 Brazil lead with 96 seconds to play.
"We wanted to come out with a victory," Brazil's Larry Taylor said. "We can't worry about the future. This builds us lots of momentum but the road ahead is still going to be tough."
Losing on purpose was not a luxury Brazil could afford, reserve Marcelo Machado said.
"We can't think this game is not so important. We play a lesser team from the second position. That's important for us," he said.
"You can push that too much. The game is played on the court. You can't make presumptions. Everyone tries to make it about the semi-finals. You have to play the quarter-finals first."
Guilherme Giovannoni said Brazil coach Ruben Magnano made it clear in the locker room before the game that such thinking would not be tolerated.
"We played to win the game," Giovannoni said. "I don't care what they did. We played to win. That was our mission always."
Marquinhos Viera Sousa said to think Spain played poorly on purposes takes away unfairly from Brazil's defensive effort.
"I don't think that," he said. "It was our defensive intensity. We made a lot of pressure."
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