Tuesday, September 15, 2009
EuroBasket 2009: France Is Perfect
The French faced their biggest challenge of the tournament Tuesday in their final qualifying round match against the Greeks, and once again Les Bleus was up to the challenge, winning 71-69 and remaining unbeaten at EuroBasket 2009.
While it wasn't the most convincing victory, the French have to feel very good about the way they were able to grind out a win against one of the top teams in the tourney while getting mediocre play from their star players. Tony Parker went 2-for-7 in just 21 minutes, finishing with 12 points, 6 below his EuroBasket average. Ronni Turiaf collected 4 fouls in 14 minutes, scored 4 points. Boris Diaw went scoreless in 19 minutes and Florent Pietrus played 14 minutes, scoring but 2 points. Nicolas Batum, with 8 points, 4 rebounds an assist and a block, was the only starter to play more than 20 minutes, a rarity for a French squad that has relied heavily on the first five.
It's possible Vincent Collet wanted to rest his starters before the start of the quarterfinals, but a loss would have dropped the French to the second seed in the group behind Greece, so that seems unlikely. Or maybe he wanted to see what he had in his bench going into the knockout stage. Either way, the calculated risk payed off as Alain Koffi (14 points, 6 rebounds in 26 minutes), Ali Traore (10 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists in 19 minutes) and Yannick Bokolo (10 points, 3 rebounds in 17 minutes) all stepped up huge off the French bench.
France had the ball with 8 seconds to play, score tied at 69-69. Time for Tony Parker, right? Wrong. Collet kept Parker on the bench, opting to go with Nando De Colo. The gamble paid off, with De Colo hitting a turnaround jumper with 0.8 left. Huge bucket to keep France perfect at 6-0. And not only did it secure the No. 1 seed, but it also gave the French bench some confidence going into the quarterfinals.
Greece was lead by Vasileios Spanoulis, who finished with 16 points after hitting seemingly every shot he took in the second half. He even nailed a near halfcourt set shot with the shot clock at 1 second late in the third quarter. Batum, who was guarding Spanoulis on the play, even backed off defensively, obviously thinking it didn't make made sense to contest such a low-percentage shot.
France will have to wait until end of day tomorrow to find out who'll they'll play in the quarterfinals. It'll be either Slovenia, Serbia, Poland or Spain. I know which matchup I'm rooting for.
(Photo credit: Fiba Europe.com)