EuroBasket 2013: Batum And Claver To Meet In Semifinals
There couldn't have been two more dissimilar games than we saw Wednesday during the first day of quarterfinals action at EuroBasket 2013 in Slovenia, with Spain winning a laugher against Serbia and France pulling out a nail-biter against the host country in front of a rowdy crowd in Ljubljana. But even though the margins of victory were drastically different, both games resulted in current Portland Trail Blazers moving on to the semifinals. Now the stage is set France and Nicolas Batum to take on Spain and Victor Claver for a chance to play for the EuroBasket 2013 championship.
Let's look at how both teams punched their tickets for Friday's semifinal.
Spain 90, Serbia 60
This is the Spain that every other team in the tournament was worried about. While a drop off in play with Pau Gasol watching the tournament form the stands was to be expected, few thought Spain would look as bad as they did through the first two rounds in Slovenia. And after they managed to just barely qualify for the quarterfinals, the remaining teams must have been hoping against hope that Spain's reign as the undisputed kings of Europe was finally over.
Well, that doesn't look to be the case. Despite being the top seeded team from Group E, Serbia was completely and utterly dominated by Spain from start to finish. The game was all but over by the end of the first quarter with Serbia remaining scoreless until three minutes into the game and finishing the quarter with just five points. While Spain certainly did their part making life difficult for Serbia, the Serbs looked like a young team playing in their first elimination game against one of the most veteran and battle-tested sides in the world.
As for Victor Claver, he once against started for Spain and did what was necessary for a player on the positive side of a blowout, scoring nine points on three-of-eight shooting to go along with three rebounds and an assist in 24 minutes of light work. He, along with many of his teammates, had numerous highlight plays in the first half, including a fastbreak dunk on a pass from Ricky Rubio in the opening minutes of the game and a beautiful touch pass to Rudy Fernandez that resulted in an easy bucket for the Iberians.
Spain was lead on offensive by former Trail Blazers guards Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Rodriguez, who finish the game with 19 and 22 points, respectively.
While he, nor his teammates, had to play their best defensive game of the tournament against an obviously over-matched team, Claver did his part, along with Marc Gasol, in holding Nenad Krstic and Nemanja Bjelica, two of Serbia's top scorers during the tournament, to a combined six points on one-for-eight shooting. On numerous occasions Claver's position defense in the post resulted in turnovers for forced turnovers, which Claver should get credit for even with Serbia melting down from the opening tip.
France 72, Slovenia 62
For a while, it looked like France would once again underachieve their way to an early exit. France actually trailed 12-10 going into the second quarter as the Slovenians were cheered on by 10,000 strong in their home gym. But while France played nowhere near perfect, they did have a smart defensive gameplan, limiting offensive rebounds and transition points, that worked in taking away Slovenia's strengths.
"The real tournament started today," said Nicolas Batum. "If you lose you go home/ We knew it was going to be a tough game against the home team. Slovenia has been playing great basketball since the beginning of the tournament, so we had to bring our 'A' game … Slovenia is maybe the best offensive rebounding team in the tournament and (good at) fastbreaks. They run like crazy, so we tried to stop them on those two points and we did tonight."
France, while not as disciplined as some of the other teams in the tournament, is arguably the most athletic team in all of Europe. And while one gets the sense at times that France relies too much on that athleticism to their own detriment, it was certainly a net positive against Slovenia, as evidenced by holding the host country to just 34 percent shooting from the field.
For his part, Batum played a great all-round game, scoring 14 points on five-for-11 shooting while spending extensive time defending Zoran Dragic and Goran Dragic, Slovenia's best perimeter players. The Dragic's combined to score 30 of Slovenia's 62 points, but shot 40 percent from the field and just one-for-nine from three.
Batum took his share of questionable shots, as he's been known to do throughout the tournament, but always seemed to make the right play when it counted. At one point in the fourth quarter and with Slovenia on the verge of making a run, Boris Diaw foundd Batum in transition for a and-one layup after Goran Dragic tried to get in position to take a charge. And later in the fourth, Batum would drive baseline, drawing a defender to him, before dumping the ball off to Nando De Colo for an uncontested layup.
Throughout the game, Batum displayed a determination that has sometimes been missing from the French side during EuroBasket. They'll need that same mindset from Batum if they're to avoid losing to Spain (yet again) in the semifinal.