Welcome to Blazersedge's continued coverage of the 2013 EuroBasket in Slovenia.
In case you missed it last week, we'll be following Portland Trail Blazers forwards Nicolas Batum and Victor Claver as they compete for France and Spain, respectively. Game breakdowns will be written and individual grades will be handed out after every contest.
Spain and France have both played five preliminary round games and have advanced to the tournament's second stage. From there, a knockout round will crown the champion. The preliminary round wrapped up over the weekend, with France playing both Ukraine and Belgium, while Spain played the Czech Republic, Poland and Georgia.
Here are links to previous recaps...
Apologies for the delay on this post: I was away for the weekend.
Let's get on with recaps from France's last two games of the preliminary round.
France 77, Ukraine 71: Game 4, Preliminary Round
Nicolas Batum's line: 8 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, 1 turnover, 2-for-8 shooting, 0-for-5 three-point shooting, -1 in 27 minutes
Following blowout wins over Great Britain and Israel, France was pushed pretty hard by a Ukraine team coached by former NBA coach and current TV broadcaster Mike Fratello and led by former University of Portland guard (and Blazers summer league player) Pooh Jeter. The two teams played even through three quarters in a foul-happy game, but the French went on a 10-0 run late in the fourth to secure the victory.
Key for our purposes: Nicolas Batum was not on the court during that late push, as he sat virtually the entire fourth quarter while Nando de Colo played during the close-out swing. (Update: Batum wrote on Facebook that he suffered a "slight ankle sprain" -- possibly while slipping on a second-half defensive play -- but he isn't expected to be bothered by the injury as the tournament progresses.)
Batum's night was marked primarily by an inability to find his shooting touch. He clanged a left corner three to open the game and never found his stroke. As the action wore on, he began to defer a bit, although he landed somewhere between overly passive and making the right play. There were chances he didn't take but he generally had an open man or another idea in mind, and he did what he could to get going.
After his first miss, Batum tried another three from the right corner in transition, only for it to rim off. Later, perhaps in the hope of generating some momentum getting into his shot, Batum pulled up for a step back three after freeing himself with a quick crossover, but that also missed the mark. The bricks continued in the second half: he was short on a right angle three and off on another jumper from the right side. Throughout, Batum didn't really take a bad shot on the night. He just couldn't hit anything -- at all -- from outside five feet.
Was this fatigue? More streakiness? A product of the extended EuroBasket format where the games don't really count yet? We'll find out over the next week.
Although Batum didn't exactly force the issue to find other ways to create his own offense, there were a few flashes. Early, he executed a very nice pumpfake, dribbling to the baseline from the left corner and rising for a violent finish, only to have his dunk prevented by a foul. Batum drew multiple fouls on the night, as the Ukrainians opted not to let him move freely off the dribble or cut open off of screens. Near the end of his court time, Batum bullied through traffic into the middle of the paint, where he flipped up a contested, somewhat crazy runner that went down. He collected the ball after it went through the rim and pounded it to the court underneath the hoop, clearly fed up with his off shooting night. "Finally," he seemed to be saying as he grimaced.
A secondary theme from this one was Batum making up for his own mistakes. Just before halftime, he gave a silly foul -- and two free throws -- while defending an inbounds play in the backcourt. Seconds later, he was finishing a point-blank lay-up on a scramble play during France's final possession of the half. In the third quarter, Batum was slow to get back after leaving a three short, only to catch a Oleksandr Lypovyy lay-up attempt with his patented chasedown block. (Lypovyy got the last laugh on that one, though, as he got behind Batum again a few plays later to finish a layup.)
Here's a look at the block. Video via YouTube user FIBAEuropeTV.
Most of Batum's rebounds came away from the hoop, as he chased down loose or batted balls. His best interior plays included a contesting effort from the weakside to force a missed lay-up, a drawn foul as he mixed it up for an offensive rebound, and a block of a Jeter drive attempt.
We didn't see some of the spectacular passing looks that Batum showed off earlier in the tournament, but he did register two assists, both to Boris Diaw. He had a chance for a few others if open shots by his teammates had gone down. On his first assist, Batum simply passed out of a baseline drive to Diaw for an angle three. The second saw Batum curl open on the left side before dumping it to Diaw for a scoop hook. His only turnover was on a forced touch pass from the left baseline, as he expected a teammate to cut quickly through the paint to the near side, a cut that never materialized.
Tony Parker again played the hero's role, finishing with a game-high 28 points and two assists, as he finally prevailed in a competitive head-to-head match-up with Jeter, who finished with 20 points and two assists. For the second time in four EuroBasket contests, Batum's performance left something to be desired. The portion of this tournament in which he can no longer get away with this type of middling play is fast approaching.
France 82, Belgium 65: Game 5, Preliminary Round
Nicolas Batum's line: DNP
Batum rested in France's final game of the preliminary round, citing the "slight ankle injury" noted in the update above.
In the spirit of soccer write-ups, we'll hand out match ratings, taking into account individual expectations for both Claver and Batum. For Batum, we'll use a 1-10 scale calibrated as such: 1 = passive, invisible; 5 = winning his match-up in unspectacular fashion; and 10 = NBA All-Star level play.
Against Ukraine, Batum earned a 3. His "right place, right time" rebounding and a lack of major mistakes on either end helped make up for a rough shooting night and a flat impact.
Against Belgium, Batum did not play and therefore did not receive a grade.
France (4-1) will play Lithuania (3-2) on Wednesday.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter