The first day of EuroBasket '09 was hit and miss from the Trail Blazers perspective. Nic Batum and Team France cleared their first hurdle, beating a star-less German squad 70-65, while Team Spain, still without the services of Rudy Fernandez, was semi-shocked by the Serbs, losing 66-57 in their first contest of the preliminary stage.
A Victoire Is A Victoire
I've paid quite a bit of attention to international basketball over the past three years, but I am no where near an authority on all things FIBA. But I feel fairly confident in saying the French must be the hardest team in the world to get a read on. They've got the talent, they've (recently) got the system, and from what I can gather, they've got the chemistry. But when the sneakers hit the hardwood, all of that seems to fly out of the gym. Simply put, the Team France is Team USA circa 2006: supremely talented yet highly beatable. So when I saw that Les Bleus needed a fourth-quarter push to beat the Germans, I wasn't too surprised.
But you take 'em any way you can get 'em, and the French got their first win of the tourney after fighting tooth and nail to even make EuroBasket, so there's no use expounding on the negatives. The great news is that Nicolas Batum returned to his earlier form, putting up 12 points, 8 rebounds and 2 assists in 32 minutes (France's starters played 154 of the possible 200 minutes in the first game. It'll be hard to keep that up throughout the tournament). Ronni Turiaf was once again the French MVP, posting 14 points, 15 rebounds and 3 blocks. And Tony Parker did what he usually does, tallying 19 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals.
Not many names most of us would recognize on the German roster, but name recognition never won a basketball game. Sven Schultze led Deutschland in scoring with 13 points off the bench. Demond Greene, who was born in Texas, put up 12 points and Patrick Femerling rounded out the German double-figure scorers with 11 points. Fermerling added 8 boards and 2 blocks as well. Tim Ohlbrecht, who played in the Hoop Summit at the Rose Garden in 2008, had 2 points. Huzzah!
Worth noting that the Germans beat Russia, one of the better teams in the tournament, 76-73 earlier today, so perhaps France's close win says more about the quality of the German side than it does about the shortcomings of France's squad.
France just came away with a 60-51 victory over Lithuania, which all but guarantees Les Bleus will advance to the next round.
The Pain In Spain
Spain dropping their first game of the tournament to Serbia was the big surprise of the first day. The quick breakdown of the loss: Pau Gasol goes 1-for-8 from the line, Rudy sits, Alex Mumbru and my boy Jorge Garbajosa, both starters, combined for 8 rebounds and no points, Spain turned the ball over 14 times and the Serbians are a nice young team. That's probably a bit too simplistic but the page has already been turned.
For some reason Victor Claver, who was starting and playing big minutes in the friendlies leading up to the tournament, played on 7 minutes off the bench. Maybe a reason for Spain's struggles? Let the kid play!
I'd go into a bit more detail, but Spain is already halfway through their second game of the tournament (you can watch live online on ESPN 360). They currently lead Great Britain 44-35. Rudy, in his first game back from injury, already has 8 points. Claver got nice in the second quarter, scoring 12 points in the second frame to go along with 3 rebounds and an assist. Joel Freeland has 8, but he's already got three fouls. Have to work on that.
If Spain can hold on to win they put themselves in good position to advance. More coming soon