Serbia 84, Brazil 56
Serbia isn't a team everybody expected to go far. Stocked with a mix of veterans and young talent, they never really had a big name to hold their team together. But tonight against Brazil, this team showed that they're worth some hype. Milos Teodosic absolutely dominated Lenadro Barbosa in the first half of this game, and Bogdan Bogdanovic came alive with some clutch threes. Even our old friend Nenad Krstic got into the action, scoring three straight times on Nene and involving himself in two scoring plays immediately following that. It was almost....surreal to witness.
The best way to describe Brazil's collapse is just that....a collapse. A complete and total collapse. "I think there was a moment in the match where we had some kind of emotional blackout", Brazil Coach Ruben Magnano said after the game. The moment he's referring to came in the third. It started with Miroslav Raduljica having a bit of success on a couple of basic pick and roll plays, giving Serbia a 7 point advantage and frustrating Brazil's bigs. Brazil responded by committing two technical fouls after they were upset about how the game was being called. It gave Serbia 6 free throws and possession, on which Serbia scored. In all, it was a 7 point swing, and put Brazil in a 14 point hole. After that, it was really hard for Brazil to find any sort of rhythm, and they got really antsy on defense. This opened up the way for Serbia to rain threes, and the game was over rather quickly.
Going into the third, it certainly didn't look like Serbia was going to go on a massive run. They had endured bouts of dry offense during the second, and Brazil was doing an excellent job of moving the ball within the half-court. When their ball movement didn't help them, Brazil didn't have much trouble getting energy points for Anderson Varejao, who had 8 in the first half. Overall, the game felt like both teams were waiting for the lid to come off the rim, with low shooting percentages, only 6 turnovers between both teams, and a real lack of transition.
In Serbia's post game press conference, stopping transition was listed as one of their main goals heading into the game. Coach Djordjevic assessed it thus:
"In each quarter, they scored less than 20 points. We didn't have turnovers, nor forced shots. After that, Brazil is, with Spain, the best transition team offensively. That was a key for us. We kept them off the boards."
Once the 21-2 third and fourth quarter run for Serbia was over, the game was over as well. I could go into the gruesome details, but it's pretty clear that Brazil's confidence was shot. They were fumbling easy passes, and a lot of players were making foolish and frustrating forays on offense. Coach Magnano seemed exasperated after the game, fully admitting that, "We're the ones responsible for this."
France 65, Spain 52
"Rhythm" seems to be the word that can best describe France's triumphant upset over host Spain. It a re-match of a game that Spain won easily during group play, and most expected the Gasol's to roll over France's patchwork front line. Gobert was too young, Diaw was too old, and no one knew about Joffrey Lauvergne. But those three players all played huge parts in France's win tonight. As Diaw said after the game, they were defensively perfect.
All night, it was a complete struggle for Spain's bigs to get anything consistent going. Pau Gasol managed to have a few moments of brilliance, but he simply couldn't get the ball low enough in the post on a lot of plays. And sometimes, even when he did, Rudy Gobert was there for a couple of epic, momentum-changing blocks. The Gasols even had trouble with the pick and roll, as France's bigs were constantly hounding them.
After the game, French coach Vincent Collet outlined France's strategy, citing both rhythm and stopping the Gasols as key elements.
"Our first goal was to slow [Spain] down. What we did best today was our defensive transition. If you watch their first 6 games of the competition, they score so many points on the fast break.
Second problem half court. You cannot stop Pau Gasol all the time, but we were digging a lot. Put pressure on their big men every time they were outside the paint. Many teams give them room and forget that they're excellent passers. Many plays for them start with high post. We try to put them under pressure."
Still, stopping transition and stopping the Gasols aren't the only factors in beating a team such as Spain. In the losing press conference, Pau cited shooting percentages and rebounding differential as the main reason behind the loss. Coach Juan Orenga echoed his sentiments, as well as emphasizing the lack of a fast break. Indeed, Spain lost the rebounding battle by 22, and shot a harrowing 2 of 22 from beyond the arc. It's hard to pinpoint either statistic, so I'm going to look at a few things individually.
First off, Ibaka had an atrocious game. He missed something like 3 wide open jumpers, and fumbled two gimme dunks. Those plays are normally his bread and butter. He also allowed France to score on two really easy back door cuts. Most importantly, he only grabbed two rebounds and spent way, way too much time away from the rim. Ricky Rubio also turned in a horrible performance, missing oodles of wide open shots.
The failure of these two players offensively combined with Gasol made it hard for Spain's wings to produce. France had no reason to pack the paint, and were extremely good about staying with their defenders on the perimeter. Spain struggled to move the ball, Navarro usually had to play against a bigger defender, and Rodriguez was forced into some difficult shots. Furthermore, the lack of transition really made it hard for Spain to get any rhythm going.
Perhaps the most telling part of the game came at the start of the third quarter, when Spain opened up with both the Gasols and a slate of 3 PGs: Rubio, Navarro, and Llull. The trio forced three straight turnovers out of France, but France countered with a Huertel-Diot combo that gave them some quick points. Then, a really long break in the action after a Florent Pietrus technical ruined Spain's momentum, pushing the game back into muddled mush.
It looked at if Spain might go on another run to win it at the end of the third, with a sweet looking Sergio Rodriguez alley-oop and Pau Gasol block energizing the crowd. But Spain simply couldn't control the paint defensively in the fourth. Rudy Gobert was able to get a couple of buckets directly over Gasol, and Diaw's floor spacing jumpers were keeping them out of the paint all night. Not to mention France's excellent half-court passing, which was on point all game. It just felt like the lack of speed from the two veterans was catching up to them in the worst way. You also have to give credit to Thomas Huertel, who hit two essential and deep threes for France late in the game.
At the end of the day, this Spanish team would beat this French team more often than not. In their heart of hearts, even the French team knows that. But in a tournament like this, conditioning is key. And France is a team that goes 10 deep. No player averages double digits in scoring, and every single one of them has a role. Meanwhile, Spain heavily relied upon both the Gasols and Navarro all tournament long. It's very possible that they were simply too fatigued to perform. A real shame for Spanish fans, but a reminder to us all that star power isn't everything.
What did you think of tonight's games? Drop a comment and let us know!