EuroBasket 2013: France Rounds Into Form Against Israel
Nicolas Batum: 22 minutes, 9 points (4-6), 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal in France's 82-63 victory against Israel
Friday's contest between France and Israel on Day Three of group play at EuroBasket was exactly what you would expect from two teams playing their third game in as many days. Add in Israel having almost no chance of advancing after starting group play 0-2 and you've got the EuroBasket equivalent of the the Bobcats playing the Heat on the second-to-last day of the NBA regular season.
And both teams treated the game as such. France took a 38-29 lead into the half without much exertion, built a sizable lead midway through the third quarter, then rested their NBA players, including Nicolas Batum, for the entire fourth quarter on the way to an 82-63 victory, which all but ensures they'll would move on to the next round after group play concludes on Monday.
This was the kind of game that allowed Batum to drift on both sides of the ball without any discernible negative impact. On defense, Batum spent much of his time guarding Israel's only NBA player, Houston's Omri Casspi, while helping off his man to assist France's post defenders on frequent occasions. Batum didn't seem to be putting his all into every defensive possession and was content to let his teammates do most of the work on the glass, but such dedication wasn't required on this night. And in truth, France's long-term prospects at EuroBasket are contingent on Batum, Tony Parker and Boris Diaw being as rested as possible when the competition really kicks up in the next round, so Batum's less than harried performance could have very well have been by design.
Offensively, Batum's performance was a good reminder of the vast difference in talent between NBA players and professionals overseas. While he scored just nine points on four-of-nine shooting, one got the sense that he could have scored at will if it would have been necessary. On two occasions, Batum's teammates found him cutting baseline to the basket for impressive yet easy alley-oop finishes, and there were at least three other opportunities of the same kind in which his teammates simply didn't notice how open he was. He once again cut down on his three-point attempts from the previous contest by taking just three shots, and while two of those were still ill-advised, there was no real risk associated.
The French get a day off on Saturday before taking on Ukraine, the only remaining undefeated team in the group, on Sunday. A win in that game would all but ensure France winning the group and heading into the next round with one of the top four seeds.