After explosion, Spain basketball gets 1st win of Olympics

Spain's Pau Gasol (4) reacts after making a basket during a basketball game against Nigeria at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Spain got its first victory of the Olympics, and almost nobody saw the beginning of it

RIO DE JANEIRO — Spain got its first victory of the Olympics, and almost nobody saw the beginning of it.

The men's basketball silver medalists in the last two Olympics held off Nigeria 96-87 Thursday night in a game that started in a nearly entirely empty arena while police exploded a suspicious backpack.

The public address announcer welcomed fans, players were introduced and national anthems were played, a standard pregame scene except for people in the seats.

"We thought, I guess nobody came to watch the game," Pau Gasol said.

They had come, but couldn't get in.

Security officials prevented fans from entering while police exploded the backpack left near a public restroom. The explosion reverberated inside and outside of Carioca Arena 1.

Gasol was startled by the boom as he was walking onto the floor near the Spain bench.

"We heard an explosion but we didn't know exactly what it was or how big it was," Gasol said. "We thought it was fireworks or, I don't know. The arena was pretty much dead empty at the beginning."

Spain had started the Olympics with narrow losses to Croatia and Brazil and needed a victory with unbeatens Lithuania and Argentina still on their schedule in the preliminary stage.

But with their fans unable to get in to provide an energy boost, coach Sergio Scariolo was worried his team might start slowly. Instead, — with the squeaking of the players' sneakers echoing in the eerie silence of the empty gym — Span jumped to an 11-2 lead and was ahead 25-11 after one quarter.

"I was delighted from our first quarter," Scariolo said, "how we started the game, how serious we were at the beginning, how intense we were defensively, how we moved the ball together. I think it was a great first quarter, but it's true, I was concerned. I was worried about that."

The Spanish players noticed the empty crowd while warming up, but weren't aware what caused it. Inspectors had determined the game could start as scheduled and allowed media and volunteers — who weren't informed of the situation — to remain in the building while the ticket holders were kept outside.

Nigeria coach William Voigt had been briefed, but said it wasn't the reason for his team's slow start.

"I decided not to really say anything to anyone else," he said. "I didn't want it to be a distraction, but I knew and certainly when whatever was detonated went off I think it was something everybody noticed."

Fans were allowed in later in the first quarter and the Nigerians rallied to take a one-point lead into the fourth. But Gasol finished with 24 points to help Spain pull away.

He had a potential tying shot blocked by Croatia's Dario Saric to end the opener and then missed two crucial free throws in the closing seconds of the loss to Brazil. Frustration seemed to be setting in during this game, as Gasol picked up a technical foul in the second half for screaming at a referee after not getting a foul call.

Now with two games left against the teams ahead of them, the Spanish can still put themselves in good position heading to the quarterfinals. Spain was 1-2 at this point of last summer's EuroBasket tournament and rallied to win it, so the team still believes in its chances.

"Basically we normally went from bottom to top throughout the competitions," Scariolo said. "We always did that. Always. Hopefully we will do the same thing here."

___

Follow Brian Mahoney on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Briancmahoney

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