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 Spain's final three games of the preliminary round.
Spain 60, Czech Republic 39: Game 3, Preliminary Round
Victor Claver's line: 6 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 turnover, 2-for-5 shooting, 1-for-3 three-point shooting, +17 in 17 minutes
Let's just say the tape of this game won't be turned into an instructional video for young players. Holy moly, was there a lot going on -- and a lot going wrong -- here.
You would need at least two full hands to count all the absolutely terrible shots Spain chucked up in this game. This is a generally free-wheeling bunch but the shot selection, even by their standards, was on Pluto. There were shots from behind the backboard, shots while falling down, shots from barely inside halfcourt, rushed shots from well beyond the arc in transition, and on, and on. Former Blazers guard Rudy Fernandez featured prominently in this, as you probably expected, but he wasn't the only culprit. Too much pre-game Sangria!
That was only the start of it though. I was prepared to open with a pithy line like, "You can't keep up with Spain if you can only put up seven points in a quarter" after watching the Czechs get down 18-7 after one. And then the fourth quarter happened -- completely blowing away any standard of futility. So get this: the Czechs somehow won the second and third quarters by a combined 30-29, taking advantage of a lot of Spanish brick-laying, an off night for Marc Gasol (two points on just one shot attempt) and the aforementioned shot selection.
And then their scoring just halted, almost completely. With 1:36 remaining in the third quarter, the Czechs scored to cut Spain's lead to 42-37. They were outscored 18-2 over the game's final 11:36, managing just one field goal and two points in the entire fourth quarter. They missed a dunk, lay-ups, wide open jumpers, threes -- virtually every type of shot you can miss. If not for a wide open lay-up, they would have been blanked for the entire period. I guess that just goes to show you that ... ... ... you can't keep up with Spain if you can only put up two points in a quarter.
OK, now that the messiness of this game has been established, let's take a look at Victor Claver, who played his lowest number of minutes in the tournament to date. Claver continued in a starting role, even though Spain has been mixing up its starting lineup, but he did not start the second half, giving way to Pablo Aguilar.
Spain's handling of rotations has been notoriously difficult to predict/dissect over the years, so we'll see how things unfold once the latter-round games commence. Claver's 17 minutes here came in the first half of the first quarter, the second half of the second quarter, and most of the fourth quarter. He didn't play at all in the third quarter. Pretty strange way to divvy that up.
In the minutes he did play, Claver performed adequately but not much better than that. I've already run down some of the challenges for him as a fifth scoring option on offense, and those challenges grow exponentially in a game like this. The Spanish guards had no time to waste moving the ball to him when there were so many bad attempts just sitting there, waiting to be launched.
Offensively, Claver's points came from a three, a lay-up in transition and a free throw.
The free throw came early in the game: he missed a tip-in opportunity but grabbed the offensive rebound and went up again, drawing a foul in the process. He split the pair.
The three came from the right corner with his feet set and in total rhythm. It was one of the few jumpers from him at EuroBasket where it was clear as soon as if left his hand that it was going in.
His lay-up was nice and easy, set up by Fernandez in transition during the fourth quarter. He reached out at full extension and at full speed to finish past a closing defender. Just like you draw it up.
He had a few other nice moments on offense, although his most aggressive effort was spoiled. Pump-faking from the top, Claver drove hard into the paint at just the right angle, causing the Czech defense to over-collapse. Once surrounded, Claver did very well to pick out Jose Calderon who was wide open on the left wing. Alas, Calderon couldn't knock down the shot. His assist came on a bit of a broken play that saw him kick out the ball to Fernandez, who did deliver by hitting the jumper.
There were struggles offensively too. He was short on his first three, from just left of the top of the key, and he lost his handle on the ball as he foolishly tried to back down his defender in the paint just inside the free throw line. Was he trying to set up a Michael Jordan turnaround fadeaway? Who knows. It really wasn't clear where he was going with that possession. He also missed a left angle three just before halftime.
This game wasn't played at a very high intensity but there was a sequence where Claver turned it up. Jiri Welsh (remember him from an NBA career that lasted from 2002 until 2006?) knocked down a jumper right in front of Claver, who didn't make much of an effort to defend it. On Spain's next possession, Claver came down to knock in his three-pointer. He followed that up with some "stick stick stick" defense when the Czechs got the ball back. Nice to see a little turn up after such a lax possession.
Another defensive sequence that could use improvement occurred early on in the first quarter when Claver tried to step out on a switch against Vojtech Hruban. Instead of containing the ball or pushing it all the way to the baseline, Claver allowed Hruban to turn the corner and get all the way to the rim for a lay-up. The help defense was clearly not prepared for that eventuality. Cardinal error on that one.
The late-game action helped Claver pad his rebounding numbers -- so many Czech misses to chase down! -- and he actually snared a board with only one hand, which looked cooler in reality that it probably sounds in theory. He made a well-timed defensive rotation into the middle of the paint that wound up forcing a turnover on a rushed pass. Otherwise, that was about that.
While the Czechs aren't world-beaters by any stretch of the imagination, they do have NBA-level talent in Welsh and Jan Vesely (although Washington Wizards fans might push back, arguing that label is too generous for him), plus a well-regarded young prospect in Tomas Satoransky. It's pretty trippy to think that they really shot 1-for-18 during a quarter. But it happened and Spain won, despite playing at a C-minus level.
Spain 89, Poland 53: Game 4, Preliminary Round
Victor Claver's line: 0 points, 1 rebound, 0-for-1 shooting, +4 in 3 minutes
Spain put the memories of the ugliness against the Czech Republic behind them with a big-time blowout over a totally out-classed Poland team, getting out to a 25-5 lead after one quarter. Aguilar started in place of Claver, who didn't check in until the second quarter. He then played just three minutes, did a nice job defending a side pick-and-roll, grabbed a defensive rebound in traffic and missed a three from the right angle before checking out for good. His night ended early after he jammed the middle finger on his left hand while receiving a pass at the top of the key.
This game offers us next to nothing to work with -- given Claver's limited time and Spain's large margin of victory -- so we move forward.
Spain 83, Georgia 59: Game 5, Preliminary Round
Victor Claver's line: 4 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 turnover, 1 block, 2-for-3 shooting, 0-for-1 three-point shooting, -4 in 8 minutes
Aguilar once again started in place of Claver, who checked in with a little more than two minutes remaining in the first quarter and played through the 4-minute mark of the second quarter. The game was tight for the entirety of Claver's shift but opened up into another dominating Spanish win as the second half unfolded.
After jamming his finger against Poland one day earlier, Claver showed no ill effects from the injury and he did not have any bandages or tape on his finger during the game.
The time on the bench to start the game seemed to inspire Claver to an energetic opening to his shift, as he looked to make a good first impression. Perhaps he was too eager, as he was stripped when he turned to face at the free throw line, resulting in a turnover when the ball ricocheted off his leg and out of bounds.
Soon enough, his energy was more productive. He extended a possession with an offensive rebound on one end and fought hard over a screen with good technique on the other. He blocked a running shot attempt in the paint, albeit one that was put up from well below the rim, and he finished a solid two-handed dunk on a pretty high-low pass from Gasol. His other points came on a lefty lay-up in transition when he leaked out following a missed three by Georgia. Claver's only miss out of his three attempts was a wide open three from the left angle. His stroke was solid but it just didn't fall.
On the defensive end, Claver found himself in the middle of a few team defensive miscues. On one possession, he stepped up to help in the middle, only to have his man cut backdoor for a dunk when he couldn't recover and his fellow big failed to help the helper. There was also a sloppy defensive rebound opportunity that wound up extending a Georgia possession, although Claver made up for it by cleaning the class (and getting fouled) when the play wrapped up.
His assist came on a nice read: he found Sergio Rodriguez in the right corner after the defense collapsed on him in the middle. The former Blazers guard and current bearded wonder put it home. Simple and smooth.
In the spirit of soccer write-ups, we'll hand out match ratings, taking into account individual expectations for both Claver and Batum. For Claver, we'll use a 1-10 scale calibrated as such: 1 = passive, invisible, losing his match-up; 5 = doing his job; and 10 = career night.
Against Czech Republic, Claver earned a 5. Although Claver finally hit a three and this game represented his high scoring performance so far during EuroBasket, it was hard to heap real praise on anyone. "Winning his match-up" was a very low standard.
Against Poland, Claver barely played and therefore did not receive a grade.
Against Georgia, Claver earned a 4. Had he played longer, and been on the court for Spain's strongest stretches, this could have been higher, perhaps much higher. Still, a decent final shift as the Spanish head for the second round.
Spain (4-1) will play Greece (3-2) on Thursday.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter