Spain's men's basketball team lost a Group B game here Saturday to Russia 77-74 despite holding an 18-point early lead and now could be forced to meet the powerful U.S. squad in the semifinals of the Olympic tournament.

The Spaniards raced off to a 20-2 lead after the first five minutes, playing fluidly and with exceptional ball movement on offense and capitalizing on sloppy play by the Russians to create steals and fast-break opportunities.

The teams then played evenly over the final five minutes of the first quarter, which ended with the Iberian nation on top 28-11.

Russia opted for a zone at the start of the second quarter to halt Spain's attack and then look for chances to score. The strategy worked as the Spanish side started missing easy looks and the Russians unleashed their varied offensive arsenal.

With Vitaly Fridzon leading the way and Spain becoming anemic on offense, the Russian squad began chipping away at the lead and got the score down to 40-32 at the half.

After the break, the Spaniards continued to be flustered by their opponent's zone, ceding the lead and then falling behind 56-53 at the end of the third quarter due mainly to poor shooting.

The Spanish team came out strong at the start of the fourth quarter, employing a zone of their own to give the Russians a different look and getting an offensive spark and emotional lift from captain Juan Carlos Navarro, who nailed a three-pointer to give his side the lead 58-56.

Spain's offense then started clicking, with Rudy Fernandez, Felipe Reyes and Sergio Rodriguez all hitting buckets to stretch the lead to 65-57.

But Russia responded quickly, tying the score at 73-73 with just a minute to go with a three pointer by Viktor Khryapa and then taking the lead with a basket by NBA Denver Nuggets center Timofey Mozgov at the 18-second mark.

Spain had a chance to tie when Los Angeles Lakers star Pau Gasol was fouled and went to the line, but he missed a critical free throw and Russia eked out the victory.

Leading the way for the Russians were Fridzon and Anton Ponkrashov with 24 points and 14 points, respectively, while Gasol was the high scorer for Spain with 20.

"The lead we had in the first quarter wasn't normal, but in the end they began to get into the game. We slowed down, they gradually got back into it and took it," Gasol said afterward.

"You have to get some rhythm and form during the tournament, and if you don't it can cost you dearly later. It'll be important to win the game against Brazil (on Monday) and get the second spot, but no doubt we have to try to improve, especially mentally."

With one round-robin game remaining, Russia now leads Group B with a perfect 4-0 record, while Spain is in second place with a 3-1 mark.

Although the top four teams from each group advance to the quarterfinals, the second-place team in Group B would likely be paired in the same section of the draw as the dominant U.S. squad in the knockout phase. EFE