Batum Gets Defensive In Loss To Lithuania
France, after stumbling out of the gate in their first game of EuroBasket 2013 against Germany, seemed to have things under control. Despite the loss, Nicolas Batum, Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and the rest of Les Bleus managed to win their remaining games in the preliminary group stage, advancing to the second round while being awarded a top seed in the process.
But whatever momentum the French had evaporated Wednesday night in Ljubljana, Slovenia with a 76-62 loss to Lithuania in the the first game of the second round. With the loss, France is now in third place in their group with a record of 2-1 (EuroBasket's competition system is rather confusing, so I'm not even going to try to explain how France is 2-1 after only playing one game).
After sitting out France's final game of the preliminary round with an ankle sprain, Batum returned to the starting lineup Wedesday, playing a team-high 33 minutes. But Batum, like everyone on France's roster, struggled offensively, scoring just eight points on 3 of 10 shooting. France shot just 40 percent from the field as a team and even that number was inflated by some easy garbage time baskets.
But that's only half the story. While Batum had a rough go on the offensive side, he was downright stellar on defense, finishing the game with two steals and two blocks and a litany of strong defensive plays that won't show up on the box score. Both of his blocks, one a chasedown in the first quarter and the other an effortless rejection of Houston's Donatas Motiejunas at the rim, were the type of plays we've become accustomed to seeing from Batum when he's locked in defensively. He also showed a determination to crash the boards that we hadn't seen from him so far in the tournament, which resulted in a team-high six rebounds.
If you're a fan of the French National Team, none of this is likely to make you feel any better about the result. But if your primary concern is the Portland Trail Blazers, you might feel better about Batum's performance against Lithuania than in any of his previous outings, and here's why. When Monty Williams was still an assistant coach with the Trail Blazers, one of his primary responsibilities was working with the forwards, including Batum. And when talking to Williams about Batum, he would often note that Batum was the kind of player who would allow his offense to effect his defense, usually negatively. So nights in which Batum's shot wasn't falling would often times coincide with poor defensive performances.
But that wasn't the case Wednesday. Despite struggling to score basically from the jump, Batum still managed to play his best defensive game of the tournament. And that's what the Trail Blazers will need from Batum during the 2013-14 season.
The French will try to get back on track Friday against Latvia, which will stream live on Watch ESPN at 11:50 AM. You can also catch Victor Claver and Spain take on Greece Thursday at 8:35 AM in their first game of the second round at EuroBasket.