Thursday, August 27, 2009
EuroBasket 2009: Batum And Les Bleus In Trouble
Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, Ronni Turiaf, Mickael Pietrus, Nando De Colo, Ian Mahinmi and Nicolas Batum. All French nationals, all NBA players, and in the case of Parker, Diaw, Turiaf, Pietrus and Batum, pretty dang good players by any standard. You think they'd have an easy time against a team who's biggest-name player is DJ Mbenga, but anything can happen in international play (as Team USA found out a few years back). Even so, it's still hard to reconcile Team France losing to Team Belgium (that's right, Belgium) 70-66 Thursday. The Belgians had homecourt advantage with the game being in Antwerp, but come on, Belgium?
The French were paced by Parker, who finished the game with 26 points and 4 rebounds, though he tallied just one assist and shot 1-for-6 from three. Ronni Turiaf messed around and got a double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds) but after that, the French box score is void of good news. Batum played a game-high 34 minutes but scored just 5 points on 1-for-5 shooting. He added a steal, an assist, a rebound and a block but Nic needs to score more for the French to be successful. Also didn't help that Les Bleus went 2-for-16 from beyond the arc.
It's not as though the Belgians are without talent. Mbenga, who finished with 7 points, 7 rebounds and all 4 of Belgium's blocks, is a decent player. Axel Hervelle, who lead Team Belgium with 14 points, was the 52nd pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, though he plays currently for Real Madrid. But after that, there's not many names on the Belgian roster anyone outside of the Flemish lands would recognize.
All is certainly not lost for the French, thanks in part to the ... creative way they run things over in Europe. The winner of the tournament is determined based on a two-game point differential system rather than a "best of" series. So right now, the French are -4, meaning they'll need to beat Belgium by no less than 5 points in their final game on Sunday, which will be held somewhere in France. If they lose or win by less than 5, Belgium gets the final spot in EuroBasket. I have no idea what happens if they win by 4. Coin flip? Thumb war?
I can't convey how important making EuroBasket is to Batum. While talking with him in Paris this summer, Nic noted repeatedly how he thought a solid showing by the French could catapult basketball's popularity in that country. If they get this close then stumble against the Belgians, who knows if they'll ever recover.