Welcome to Blazersedge's continued coverage of the 2013 EuroBasket in Slovenia.
In case you missed it on Wednesday, 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 will both play five preliminary round games before the tournament advances to a second stage and, finally, a knockout round that will crown the champion. The preliminary round continued on Thursday, with France defeating Great Britain and Spain losing to Slovenia.
Also, here's a link to a EuroHoops.net interview with Batum from earlier this week.
France 88, Great Britain 65: Game 2, Preliminary Round
Nicolas Batum's line: 17 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 turnovers, 1 steal, 1 block, 7-for-10 shooting, 2-for-5 three-point shooting, +21 in 23 minutes
Long story short: this was exactly the bounce back game against weak competition that seemed inevitable following France's surprising loss to Germany on Wednesday. Not only was Nicolas Batum more aggressive and focused in this one, he was a lot more entertaining to watch.
France wasted no time informing Great Britain, playing without Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng and Blazers forward/center Joel Freeland, of the talent disparity between the two teams. On the game's opening sequence, France ran Batum off a big on the left block, a play they've been using for years now, and it ended with a clean hand off and an uncontested dunk. It doesn't get any easier than that, and it sure was a good way to immediately put Wednesday's result in the rearview mirror.
The French went on to dominate the first quarter and really blow things open in the third, leaving the entire fourth quarter as garbage time. As such, Batum wound up packing a lot of production into fairly limited minutes -- a game-high 17 points in 23 minutes -- and it came about as easy as his shooting numbers suggest. In reality, it probably came easier: two of Batum's three misses came on long three-pointers (one on a halfcourt heave) at the end of the first half. He went 7-for-8, then, on shots that actually had a chance.
There were plenty of moments where Tony Parker and Batum just toyed with the British, who are now coached by former Blazers assistant Joe Prunty. A few of Batum's cheeky plays: an unexpected dump pass to a hard-charging Mickael Gelebale for a thunderous transition dunk; a perfectly-timed pocket pass to a rolling big, which ended up going for naught; a darting cut into the paint to receive a touch pass from Boris Diaw, which he finished with a smooth 10-footer; a pretty pump-fake that cleared the defense and set up a nice entry pass to Diaw, who would have had an easy hoop if the referees didn't intervene with a three-second call; and an anticipatory steal that he took to the house for an and-one that wound up keying France's pull-away third-quarter run.
It was the type of game where Batum looked like he was floating on the court rather than laboring, and his jump shot balance/mechanics were back where they should be. It actually appeared like he was shooting in slow motion on a few occasions, which clearly isn't a credit to the British perimeter defense. He had all day and he made full use of it. He knocked down a three, bulldozed his way to a put-back on an offensive rebound, put in a pretty baseline jumper, and hit another long one from the right angle.
He wasn't consistently locked in on defense, which seemed, in part, to be a product of France's relative certainty that it could score at will on the other end. Still, there were mistakes that shouldn't occur: he got hung up on multiple screens; he didn't communicate with his big on a back screen, conceding a wide open alley-oop dunk; he was beaten to the basket side for a lay-up on an inbounds play; he was late trailing on his opponent's hard curl near the free-throw line, getting back to challenge an otherwise open shot, which missed; and he over-committed to an attempt at a steal on the perimeter and came up empty, although he made up for it nicely by recovering to get an extension block.
His two turnovers were split: one excusable, one brain fart. The first came early as he looked to attack a not-yet-set transition defense and got happy feet before he dribbled. It was a very assertive play: the type that NBA players often get away without drawing a traveling infraction. The second was just strange: he worked hard to save a possession for France only to take a hand-off to Parker for granted near halfcourt. A British defender intervened and the ball went loose for a backcourt violation. In a close game, this would have been cause for serious frustration. In this one, it was worth only an eyebrow scratch.
Even with those moments of less than perfect attention, Batum clearly contributed more than he gave up. He and Parker, who finished with 16 points and five assists, operated on a different plane than everyone else. Prunty often looked helpless when the camera cut to Great Britain's huddle: he had no answers for Parker's beautiful spin moves or Batum's barrage.
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 Great Britain, Batum earned an 8. He played very well -- and obviously shot very well -- but he's been better on defense and could have done even more had France actually required his services down the stretch.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter