LILLE, France (Reuters) - Spain won their third European championship in style after a blistering performance by the talismanic Pau Gasol inspired them to an 80-63 win over Lithuania in Sunday’s final.
The Chicago Bulls center poured 25 points and racked up 12 rebounds for the 2009 and 2011 winners.
Runners-up on home court in 2007 and third in 2013, Spain forced Lithuania into submission with an electrifying display of speed, skill and lethal long-range shooting at crunch moments.
The 35-year-old Gasol, a double former NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, was named the competition’s most valuable player after carrying his injury-hit team throughout the grueling 24-nation event.
Unstoppable in attack and a pillar in defense, Gasol engineered a 19-8 first quarter lead as the Spaniards turned their half of the court into a fortress.
Missing five key players and having scraped through the group stage, Spain also benefited from sound performances by their backcourt players who sprung to life after struggling for much of the campaign.
Dynamic playmaker Sergio Lull added 12 points, six rebounds and five assists, while Rudy Fernandez chipped in with 11 points before he limped off with an injury in the third quarter.
Gasol’s Lithuanian counterpart Jonas Valanciunas, who was at the heart of their semi-final win over Serbia, was subdued this time and fouled out with 10 points and nine rebounds.
Roared on by most of the fans in Lille’s soccer stadium, adapted for the tournament’s knockout rounds, the Lithuanians fought hard to stay in touch but a late Gasol three-pointer vanquished their faint hopes of a comeback.
Rafa Nadal, winner of 14 grand slam tennis titles, was among the Spanish fans who treated Gasol to a standing ovation when he was substituted in the final minute.
Earlier on Sunday, hosts France won the bronze medal after beating Serbia 81-68.
Spain and Lithuania secured automatic berths in next year’s Olympic Games while France, Serbia, Italy, Greece and the Czech Republic will enter three intercontinental qualifying tournaments for an extra three spots.
The United States beat Spain in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic finals but the European giants will hope to be at full strength for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro and have another tilt at the only major trophy missing in their cabinet.
Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic in Belgrade; Editing by Justin Palmer