EuroBasket 2013: France Takes First Gold, Spain Settles For Bronze
It was a good day for Nicolas Batum, Victor Claver and their respective national teams on the final day of competition at EuroBasket 2013 in Slovenia. Batum and his teammates on the French National Team dismantled Lithuania 80-66 to win their first ever European championship, while Claver and Spain handled Croatia 92-66 to take the bronze medal.
One could argue the real championship took place when France and Spain, considered by most observers as the two best teams in Europe, squared off Friday in a semifinal matchup, a game that France would go on to win 75-72. That argument was only strengthened by the blowout nature of Sunday's contests.
France 80, Lithuania 66
The Lithuanians had to feel good about their chances in the gold medal game after defeating France 76-62 on Sept. 11 in the second group stage of EuroBasket.
And up until midway through the second quarter, it looked as if Lithuania was up to the task of once against beating the French, or at the very least, keeping the game competitive. But things when bad quickly for Lithuania after Linas Kleiza, who lead Lithuania with 20 points and five rebounds, went to the bench with 5:50 to play in the first half with the game tied 29-29. From there, France would go on to outscore Lithuania 21-5 to end the half, putting France up 50-34 while putting the gold all but out of Lithuania's reach.
Given that, it should come as no surprise that Nicolas Batum did most of his damage when the game was still in the balance. After struggling mightily on offense during the semifinal game against Spain, Batum put on a clinic in the first half, scoring all 17 of his points on 6-of-7 shooting before the intermission.
It was primarily the play of Batum that helped France seize control of the game in late in the second quarter while Kleiza was on the bench. In a pivotal five-minute stretch before the end of the first half, Batum hit back-to-back three-pointers, converted a fastbreak with a finger-roll layup, pulled down two rebounds and handed out an assist to help France take a 14-point lead into the second half.
For as good as Batum was on offense against Lithuania, he might have been better defensively. At the 2:58 mark in the first quarter, Batum used his length to reach around Jonas Maciulis to poke a pass away for a steal. At 1:34 in the first quarter he prevented what would have been an easy fastbreak basket for Lithuania by hustling back in transition.
His best defensive play of the night came with just 30 seconds to play in the first half with France leading 47-34. Kleiza, who entered back into the game at the 2:32 mark, tried to post Batum up between the baseline and free throw line. But Batum jumped the entry pass from Renaldas Seibutis, knocking the ball away for a steal. Batum finished the play by wagging his finger at Kleiza, Dikembe Mutombo-style, as if to say "don't try posting me up again."
Despite not scoring in the third and fourth quarters, Sunday's final goes down as Batum's best all-around game of the tournament. Batum played all but three minutes despite the France holding a double-digit lead throughout the entire second half. And though he wasn't as dominate on defense in the second half, such a performance wasn't necessary given the circumstance.
Batum finishes the tournament with averages of 11.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.0 steals in 29 minutes a game. After disappointing performances in both EuroBasket 2011 and the 2012 Summer Olympics, winning France's first gold at EuroBasket 2013 easy goes down as the highlight of Batum's international career.
Spain 80, Croatia 66
The only chance Croatia really had in this game was hoping Spain would be so dejected from missing out on a chance to win their third-consecutive EuroBasket gold that they'd be indifferent to playing for the bronze. And while there Spain will likely look back on their EuroBasket 2013 with regret, they weren't about to make matters worse by rolling over against a vastly inferior Croatian side.
But after a hard-fought loss to France on Friday, Spain seemed to look to their role players to lead the way on Sunday, with both Sergio Llull (21 points, one rebounds, one assist) and Victor Claver having their best statistical performances of the tournament. Claver did much of his damage at the free throw line, hitting 9-of-10 from the charity stripe and finishing with 16 points despite shooting 3-of-7 from the field. Not only did Claver have his best scoring output of the tournament, but he did so while dominating Croatia's Dario Saric, a player most expected to be taken in the first round of the 2013 NBA Draft before he withdrew his name from consideration.
This also wasn't a case of Claver getting his numbers in garbage time. In fact, it was the exact opposite. Croatia actually lead 28-27 with 4:55 to play in the second quarter before Spain went on a 20-9 run to end the to end the half, with Claver doing much of the damage. He drew three fouls in the last three minutes of the first half and converted all six free throws to help Spain take the lead and control of the game.
Claver finishes the tournament with averages of 6.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 0.7 blocks, and 0.8 assists in 20.4 minutes per game. While not winning gold is a disappointment, EuroBasket 2013 goes down as a success for Claver simply due to starting and playing a far more important role than he had in other national team appearances.