LONDON (Olympics) - If you were to ask anyone who watched what was the key to Russia coming from 18 points down to beat Spain
77-74 on Saturday, they would likely tell you it was the result of Vitaliy Fridzon's hot shooting as he poured in a game-high 24 points.
They might also give credit to Anton Ponkrashov who worked the pick-and-roll to perfection in handing out 11 assists to go along with 14 points. They could also point to Victor Khryapa's three three-pointers in the third quarter that gave his team a much-needed shot in the arm.
But if you ask Russia head coach David Blatt, he'll tell you otherwise.
"The key to victory in all honesty is the advice I received from my assistant coach Dmitry Shakulin as I was sleeping on the sidelines when Pau (Gasol) was ready to take his free-throws," he said of the game's closing seconds when Russia were up 75-73.
"He told me to use one of the two time-outs we had left. He said it might freeze him (Gasol) a bit. So I took the timeout. I don't know if Pau missed the free-throw because of the time-out or not, but we got the win."
Gasol missed the first of his two free-throws. After he made the second one, Spain fouled, sending Fridzon to the line and he coolly knocked down his last two points to ice the game.
Fridzon, Ponkrashov, Khryapa and Shakulin all played their part in the win, one that looked highly improbable in the first quarter as Spain ran out to an 18-2 lead and stretched that to 28-11 by the end of the first quarter.
So how did Russia recover to steal the game from the two-time European champions? They stopped trying to play Spain's way.
"I think we were completely frustrated in the first eight minutes of the game, playing in Spain's hands. We ran too much, we turned the ball over, we couldn't make shots, the ball didn't want to go in. So it was pretty tough to get going," explained Russia star forward Andrei Kirilenko who had a quiet game offensively with just eight points.
"But in the second quarter when Fridzon made a couple of shots, we kind of got going and we told each other 'ok don't worry about points, just start shaving those points one by one'.
"It was important for us to go to halftime less than 10 (down) and we got within eight."
Khryapa drilled three attempts from beyond the arc in the third quarter to get Russia within 47-45, before Ponkrashov, Timofey Mozgov and Fritzon took over the scoring to put their team up 56-53 heading into the final frame.
The Spaniards responded well through Sergio Rodriguez, Felipe Reyes and the returning Juan Carlos Navarro who combined to provide a huge lift off the bench which enable Sergio Scariolo's side to take a 69-60 lead with 4:39 left to play.
However, Russia closed out the game more assertively.
Kirilenko hit two foul shots and then made a basket, before Fridzon knocked down a pair of his own from the charity stripe.
The Russians were within 71-70 when Ponkrashov knocked down a jumper just before the shotclock expired and they tied the game at 73 all with 1:01 left to play on Khryapa's fourth three-pointer.
Ponkrashov saved one of his best assists for when it mattered most. Following on from some good ball movement, the guard fired a bullet pass inside to a wide open Mozgov for the go-ahead dunk with 18 seconds left to play.
Gasol was fouled at the other end but missed his chance to tie the game.
Despite the outcome, Spain refuse to let the defeat eat away at them too much and for too long.
"I think it was a run to run game and they were a bit better in the last couple of minutes," said point guard Jose Calderon.
"We knew they were going to make a run. It's a 40-minute game and you can never relax, you've got to keep playing and they played great in the second half.
"Even then, we were able to have a nine-point lead but they played better the last couple of minutes."
For Scariolo, the result was all the more impressive as Spain did a good job of keeping in check both Kirilenko and Aleksey Shved.
"I think we did a very good job on Shved and Kirilenko but Fridz and Anton were very effective and precise, attacking us with pick-and-roll and screens. Fridz, Anton and Victor killed us."
Kirilenko paid tribute to Ponkrashov.
"Anton had a tremendous game. A lot of players were talking trash about him the past couple of games. I told him 'come on you can't listen to those guys, you know you're a good player and you're going to make it some games'. And he won us the game basically," he said.
As for what the result means, the forward believes its importance can't be underestimated.
"This is a very important win as it gives us first place in the group," he said.
"It's way different when you come from the group into the Quarter-Finals as the best in your group. It helps your confidence."