ISTANBUL -- I don't usually let others write my leads for me, but I'll make an exception in this case and relay what Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey tweeted after watching Luis Scola dominate down the stretch of Argentina's 93-89 victory over Brazil: "Scola goes into video game god mode to finish off Brazil. Wow."
Scola made Argentina's last five field goals, didn't miss a shot in the fourth quarter and scored 37 points on 14-for-20 shooting Tuesday night. He also had two assists and a key late steal in one of the more dominating performances I've ever witnessed by a single player in an international basketball game. (Sadly, I only watched Oscar Schmidt of Brazil play in person in 1996, at the tail end of his career).
"It was an amazing basketball game. I wish I was neither Argentinian nor Brazilian so I could have watched the game and enjoyed it from that perspective," said Scola, the leading scorer by far in this tournament with an average of 30.4 points per game.
This was simply a wonderful game to witness (in the U.S. you can watch a replay by clicking here), a dogfight in which neither team led by more than seven points, and it left me wondering two things:
How are the Americans going to defend Scola if they go up against him in the semifinals? (The U.S. needs to defeat Russia, and Argentina must beat Lithuania in order for that to happen.)
Why isn't Brazilian point guard Marcelo Huertas, who had 32 points on 10-of-16 shooting, in the NBA?
I have no answer to that second bullet point, but I know U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski was wondering the same thing eight days ago when he was effusive in his praise for the 27-year-old after the Americans defeated Brazil by 2 points in a preliminary round game. Tonight, I asked Scola, who spent several seasons in the Spanish League before coming to the the NBA with the Houston Rockets in 2007, how he thinks Huertas would fare in the NBA. His response: "For sure there are worse players than him in the NBA. You never know what might come. If you are a guy who plays that great in the ACB [Spanish League], that's a pretty high level right there. He's definitely NBA talented."
Argentina was ahead 81-79 with just under 3 minutes left when Scola hit a 15-footer. After a miss at the other end by Tiago Splitter, Scola banked a driving layup high off the glass for a six-point lead. Huertas answered with a 3-pointer, Splitter drew a charge on Carlos Delfino, and Marcelo Machado hit two free throws to make it a one-point game, 85-84, with 1:28 left.
Scola hit a jumper in the lane over Anderson Varejao with 1:04 left, then reached in and poked the ball away from Leandro Barbosa in front of the Brazil bench. Next came the killer, a high pick-and-pop play with longtime Argentine point guard Pablo Prigioni that produced a 15-foot jumper that Scola nailed for an 89-84 lead with 24 seconds left.
"Those two have been playing for like 10 years together on the national team, and that was the only way they were able to score," said Huertas, who nailed an incredible 3-pointer -- he launched the shot on the run, twisting his body in mid-air to get around Scola and releasing the ball after his momentum had carried him some 2-3 feet inside the 3-point arc to make it 91-89 with 1.9 seconds left.
Scola then was fouled on the ensuing inbounds play with 1.2 seconds left, made the first free throw and tried to intentionally miss the second in order to let the clock run out. Instead, it banked off the glass and went in to provide the final 4-point margin.