Losing only one game in eight matches at the FIBA Americas Championship, and having been beaten Puerto Rico early in tournament, San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili and Argentina appeared to be the heavy favorites to beat Puerto Rico again in their semifinal game but that wasn’t the case.
Both teams started out strong, and were tied at 13 in the 4:33 mark of the first quarter, when Team Argentina went on 9-0 blast to build a nine-point lead, 22-13 and finished the period up by five 29-24.
However, Dallas Mavericks’ Juan Jose Barea and Puerto Rico have other plans in mind, outscoring Argentina in the second quarter 20-11, to take a 44-40 lead at halftime.
Led by Ginobili in the second half, Argentina surged into a comeback.
Manu hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 48 early in the third quarter and then made another 3 with 5:27 left in the period as Argentina take a 54-51 lead.
But Barea made a 3-pointer of his own to tie the game once again at 54 and then assisted on another three-point basket for a 57-57 deadlock.
Ginobili would take over again, hitting back-to-back three pointers as the Argentines held on to 66-60 lead entering the final quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Puerto Rico gave Argentina all they can handle.
Despite an early fourth quarter run in which the Argentine nationals built a 77-68 lead with 5:31 left in the game, Puerto Rico staged a furious rally that cut the deficit to just two-points 75-77 with 4:24 remaining.
Houston Rockets’ Luis Scola made a two-point jumper on a Ginobili assist to put their lead back up 79-75 with 3:27 left in the game clock.
However, Barea and Puerto Rico weren’t done.
They were able to tie the game at 79, on Daniel Santiago’s jump shot and had a chance to retake the lead after Scola missed on the ensuing play.
But Santiago committed a costly turnover with 1:13 left and Ginobili was fouled on the next possession and made 1-of-2 free throws to give Argentina an 80-79 lead.
Boston Celtics’ Carlos Arroyo took a two-point jumper with 32 seconds left that could have given the lead back to Puerto Rico but missed.
Pablo Prigioni was fouled by Arroyo with six seconds left. Prigioni made his first foul shot and missed the second, but Barea’s last second three-point attempt did not went in and the Argentine nationals held on to win the ball game 81-79.
Scola had a game-high 27 points for Argentina, while Ginobili finished with 23 points, seven rebounds, one steal and one block and shot 63.6 percent from the floor, including 6-of-9 from beyond the arc in 36 minutes of action but also committed four turnovers.
Barea led Puerto Rico with 20 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals in a losing effort.
Ginobili and Team Argentina earned an outright Olympic berth at the London games in 2012, and will meet Tiago Splitter and Team Brazil at the FIBA Americas finals match on Sunday.