This was France's first Eurobasket championship....of all time. Needless to say, it was a pretty huge day for Tony Parker and crew. They didn't have the same caliber of big men that Lithuania had, but they were able to force Lithuania out onto the perimeter, where they relied upon the combination of Mantas Kalnietis and Ronaldas Seibutis. Inside, they really only had Linas Kleiza, who saw a lot of success isolating in the paint and nailing threes off of screens. The Lavrinovic twins, Robertas Javtokas, Donatas Motiejunas, and Jonas Valanciunas were hardly able to produce. None of them got the ball frequently enough to make an impact, and even if they did, none of them are good back-to-the-basket scorers.
Really, this game came down to the end of the second quarter. The last four minutes were basically a microcosm of what's been wrong with Lithuania throughout this tournament. Kalnietis and Seibutis were dominating the ball, and neither of them were able to get anything going. They got blocked in the paint, fired up bad threes, and tried (in vain) to hit their big men in stride. They didn't have the court-vision necessary to get anything beyond simple plays going, and they lost the ball a couple of times.Meanwhile, France had a huge explosion of offense, capitalizing on turnovers and pushing the ball in transition. It was helped by a few lucky threes, including a miracle three from Diot (after Lithuania threw away an inbound pass) at the end of the second quarter, putting Lithuania down by 16.
After that point, Lithuania was never able to recover. Their offense was on even keel with what they've done so far, but it never really looked cohesive. They caught a break in the third when France racked up a few early fouls and sent Lithuania into the bonus. In the fourth, they were running out of time, and they got increasingly desperate, firing up three after three. Meanwhile, Boris Diaw played like he was 5 years younger, hitting some impressive shots in the post
If you had to pinpoint a single reason that France got this far in the tournament, there's only one place to go: Tony Parker. You've gotta give a lot of respect to the NBA All-Star for so consistently putting on the French jersey, and playing so incredibly hard for his team. He was able to make mincemeat of every single defense he played against, weaving through their coverage for open jumpshots, and working off the ball for opportunities in the paint. He was the glue that helped hold this team together, and he was always able to produce when the others weren't.
As an aside, going to this game was a strange affair. The crowd consisted primarily of Slovenians (evidenced by their lack of team colors and huge roar for Goran Dragic when he was named to the All-Tournament team). But there was a large swath of Lithuanian fans, a couple pockets of French fans, and even a small legion of Spanish fans. Other countries were represented, including Croatia, Ukraine, Greece, and Italy. I'd never seen so many fans from so many different countries go to a single game.
Also, the upper bowl of that arena was designed by some idiot. The first row has you staring into a row of bars, unable to see most of what's going on. Thus, most people in the first row like to stand. As a result, most people behind them have to stand, and it creates a ton of problems for everyone. Personally, I don't mind standing, but when I walked into the arena, I arrived in the midst of a war. A bunch of passionate Lithuanian fans stood at the bottom of the stands, intent on cheering on their team. Meanwhile, a bunch of casual Slovenian fans sat behind me, getting increasingly angry at their inability to see. I didn't want to stand and further their rage, but all of the aisles were taken, so I had to. A bunch of people shouted at me to sit down, but after giving a speech about my situation, they fell silent. The fans were still enraged though, and a couple people ran down to the Lithuanians and angrily shouted at them, demanding that they sit down. After a few thorough complaints to security, a bunch of orange-vested people came in an forced the Lithuanians to sit down. As a proponent of standing during games, I was kind of disappointed, but the whole situation was ridiculous, and caused me to miss most of the first half. Whoever designed that arena needs to go back to architecture school.
3rd Place Game
And all of a sudden, Croatia's bigs have disappeared. The offense that I once praised for working so well from the inside out devolved into isolation city. None of their bigs could get going, and the refused to go small and try to draw the Spanish bigs out of the paint. The result was Bojan Bogdanovic seeing success only on his own, and the rest of the Croatian team largely struggling from the floor.
I can't stick this game to a single galvanizing moment, but I can definitely tell you that Croatia totally fell apart in the fourth quarter. The announcers were harping on the fact that Croatia seemed tired, and I'd pretty much agree with that assessment. They stuck to a tight 9 man rotation throughout the tournament, with Ukic and Bogdanovic averaging over 30 minutes. Their defense simply wasn't there, especially when Spain was able to rotate around for some open threes.
On Spain's end, they had a pretty consistent offense throughout the game, save for the third quarter. They only really struggled when they started chucking up tons of long range shots during that period, simply because they could. They deserve credit for riding the hot hand and pounding it in the paint, racking up the fouls and a few extra trips to the line.
This concludes my coverage of the 2013 Eurobasket! Many thanks to everyone for reading, and I thank the non-Euro basketball followers for bearing with me!