This was one of the best games the FIBA tournament has seen so far in terms of close scoring, but the finish was a total slugfest. Literally. Late in the fourth, after missing 11 straight shots, France had to foul Spain in order to keep the game going. The first foul was Ronny Turiaf straight up shoving Rudy Fernandez into the scorers table, sidelining him with an injury. The second foul was Nicholas Batum punching the ball (with a closed fist) out of Juan Carlos Navarro's hand. The two players got into it, with Batum at one point saying, "You fucked up!". Both fouls were ruled unsportsmanlike, basically eliminating France from the game.
Though the actions of the players were brash, if you saw the fourth quarter, it's easy to understand why they happened. France's offense had grind to a total halt. They couldn't drive and get any calls inside, because Spain's help defense was terrific, and they were constantly getting blocked. From outside, the problem that had been plaguing them all tournament, three point shooting, reared its' ugly head again. Spain's offense wasn't very good either, as France did an excellent job keeping the Gasols away from the rim, and their three point shooting was off as well. In other words, there were four minutes without a single point, and France, aside from a meaningless Gelabale jumper in the final seconds, scored only four points in the quarter.
Still, France gets credit for how they played through the early quarters. They had Kevin Seraphin and Ronny Turiaf play aggressive defense on the Gasols early on. This gave them quick fouls and sent them to the bench, but it also had the effect of destroying their confidence near the basket. France quickly trotted out Ali Traore at center and switched Boris Diaw over to power forward. This kept Pau from hitting too many deadly jumpers, and it freed up Diaw for some easy shots.
Offensively, France used Tony Parker to his full extent, tearing up the Spanish interior. He really developed an excellent repertoire with Boris Diaw, and they did a great job of limiting the turnovers that had plagued them in previous games. They also were shooting their threes pretty well, and racked up a early lead in the first quarter.
Spain countered in the second by going to a 2-3 zone, effectively destroying Parker's paint effectiveness. But Spain's offense was equally stagnant, so they weren't really able to make any ground. They went 1-9 from three until hitting a few shots in the second quarter, with the one make being on a questionable early goaltending call. Florent Pietrus was a surprise performer in the second quarter for France, scoring 10 points and shutting down Rudy Fernandez on defense. The game was already showing signs of grinding to a halt though, as players on both sides flopped like crazy.
The third quarter saw another change in strategy. Once Spain gained an early lead, they went back to a man-to-man defense, and attempted to force France into turnovers and gain the upper hand. But France saw their tactic and immediately attacked the paint, with a good deal of success. Spain was able to up the pace and get a few transition points, but with the fouls racking up on France's bigs, the Gasol brothers were finally able to put in work.
Which brings us to the fourth. Spain starts playing help defense, France can't get a single thing to go their way, and Spain slugs out a win. You could say that Spain's defense won this game, but I'd chalk it up moreso to their ability to score when it really matters. Fernandez managed to draw a foul call on a rebound against Nicholas Batum, by flopping out of bounds. This gave Spain two free throws and put them up by three. After France struggled mightily and couldn't get anything done in the paint on the other end, Spain gave it to Mr. Reliable, Pau Gasol, and he found his brother streaking down the lane for an easy score. Game, set, and match to Spain.
With the win, Spain moves on to the Semi-Finals, where they'll take on Russia. France will go home, and we'll next hear from them at the 2013 Eurobasket in Spain.
Serge Ibaka didn't get much time, but he made a couple of shots around the basket and provided excellent help D for Spain's zone. He had 5 rebounds, but surprisingly, no blocks.
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