EuroBasket 2013: France Finally Comes Out On Top Versus Spain
After years of having their title hopes dashed by their southern neighbors, France overcame a 14-point deficit to defeat Spain 75-72 in overtime
in the EuroBasket 2013 semifinals in Ljubljana, Slovenia. With the victory, France will face Lithuania for the EuroBasket title on Sunday, while Spain will face Croatia in the bronze medal game.
France was lead by Tony Parker, who carried Les Bleus with 32 points, six rebounds and an assist. Marc Gasol was the high scorer for Spain, finishing with 19 points to go along with nine rebounds, three blocks and two assists.
As for Nicolas Batum and Victor Claver, neither will look back all too fondly on their individual performance. While Batum was certainly ecstatic about the final result
, he couldn't have been happy with his three-point, two-assist, three turnover night, just as Claver will likely look back on his three-point, four-rebound performance with a fair amount of regret. Though to be fair to both players, Friday's game was generally a sloppy and aesthetically unpleasing affair that saw both teams combine to commit 33 turnovers and 49 fouls.
Batum, after playing arguably his best game of the tournament in France's quarterfinal victory against Slovenia, was unable to get into any kind of rhythm Friday after being called for two fouls in the first four minutes of the first quarter (players only get five fouls in FIBA competition). Batum was replaced by Nando De Colo at the 4:51 minute mark in the first quarter and didn't return to the game until the 6:33 mark in the second quarter. By that time, Spain lead 26-18 and pushed their lead to 34-20 by the end of the first half.
The French responded as the French often do when times get hard, by putting nearly the entire offense on Parker's shoulders. It's hard to question the tactic with France beating Spain in a game that mattered for the first time in nearly a decade, but it didn't provide many opportunities for Batum, or anyone else on France's roster, to get into any kind of flow on offense. Batum took just four shots, making one (which, not coincidentally, came off a set play out of a timeout), in 23 minutes while spending much of the game relegated to the corners on offense while Parker pinballed his way to the hoop.
While Batum didn't play much of a role in France's offense, he did leave his mark on the defensive end, making numerous plays in the overtime period that helped tip the scales in France's favor, as evidenced by his finishing the game +10, the second best mark on the team behind Parker's +13.
At the 2:49 mark in overtime and with the game tied 67-67, Gasol found himself with the ball near the three-point line with the shot clock winding down. Recognizing the situation, Batum pressured Gasol as he tried to dribble into a better position, which resulted in Gasol fumbling the ball away as the shot clock expired. Thirty seconds later, Batum would deflect a Gasol pass for another forced turnover. Finally, he had a hard closeout on Claver, who was momentarily open in the corner with Spain trailing 69-67 with 46 seconds to play, forcing his NBA teammate to alter his shot as to avoid the block, which resulted in Claver putting up an airball.
Which brings us to Claver, who has played a major role for Spain at EuroBasket 2013 after being a bench-warmer in previous national team appearances. Even so, Claver's stat line was in no way the reason for Spain's struggles -- that can be primarily chalked up to turnovers and poor shot selection by nearly all of Spain's guards -- though that's not likely to make him feel better about his performance, especially with the way both the fourth quarter and overtime period ended.
With less than five seconds to play in regulation and the game tied 65-65, Jose Calderon took a contested three-pointer from the far corner that bounced off the rim. Claver was in position for the rebound but was forced to put up a one-handed, off-balance putback attempt to beat the clock. The awkwardness of the attempt produced a weak attempt, resulting in a miss and the game going to overtime.
Then late in the overtime period after airballing the potential go-ahead three-pointer mentioned above, Claver committed an unnecessary foul on Parker that resulted in two made free throws and a four-point lead for the French. Missing the shot was something Spain could have overcome, but compounding that miss by committing a foul that resulted in the deficit being pushed to two scores will probably keep Claver up a few nights.
Which is unfortunate considering he played well on the defensive end. Filling the role as the secondary bigman in the starting lineup alongside Gasol, Claver had the task of guarding a much larger and craftier player in Boris Diaw, who Claver helped hold to eight points on 3-for-11 shooting. In the first quarter, Claver successfully fronted Diaw in the post, forcing De Colo to abandon the play call (the possession would end in a turnover for France).
Even the overtime wasn't all bad for Claver. He ended up guarding Parker one-on-one at the top of the three-point line with Spain up 67-65 with a little over two minutes to play. Parker recognized the mismatch and prepared to drive on Claver, who likely realized he was mostly helpless to keep Parker from getting to the basket by himself. But rather than committing a foul or simply allowing Parker to get to the rim, Claver funneled Parker into lane to where two Spanish defenders were waiting to help, which forced Parker to pass the ball to Alexi Ajinca, who misses a shot near the rim.
Detractors will look at the box score and assume both Batum and Claver had poor performances, though neither was as bad as one might assume at first glance. While neither had great games by any stretch, both had their moments and played within the confines of their teams' respective systems.
Both players will return to the court on Sunday for the last day of EuroBasket 2013, with Claver and Spain taking on Croatia at 8:30 AM followed by the championship game featuring Batum and France against Lithuania, a team that beat France in the second round, at 11:50 AM. Both games can be seen on NBATV and ESPN3.com.