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Game Breakdown: Nicolas Batum -- France vs. Spain in EuroBasket Final

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Two weeks back, we kicked off a series of posts regarding Portland Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum and his play for France during the 2011 EuroBasket tournament, currently being held in Lithuania. Here's a look at his performance in a win over Turkey, here's a look at his game against Lithuania, here's a look at his play against Spain last Sunday, here's a look at his game against Greece in the quarterfinals on Thursday, and here's a look at his standout play against Russia in the semifinals. We proceed with his play versus Spain in the EuroBasket championship game on Sunday.

Update: Here's a podcast about the game from The Basketball Jones.

The Stage

The tournament's two favorites, loaded with rosters full of recognizable NBA players, fended off 22 other teams and a weird three-round format to advance all the way to a death match in the EuroBasket final. By making it to the final, both teams earned a 2012 Olympics qualifying berth. All that was left to settle was the EuroBasket title and continental bragging rights. Here's the full tournament schedule.

The Opponent

Spain was the prohibitive favorite throughout the tournament and Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com noted that the Spaniards entered the game as a 7-point favorite. Their roster is absolutely stacked, including a host of NBA players: Pau Gasol (Los Angeles Lakers), Marc Gasol (Memphis Grizzlies), Rudy Fernandez (Dallas Mavericks), Ricky Rubio (Minnesota Timberwolves), Jose Calderon (Toronto Raptors), Serge Ibaka (Oklahoma CIty Thunder) and former NBA player Juan Carlos Navarro. Blazers international player Victor Claver is also a reserve on the team.

Batum is joined on France by fellow NBAers Tony Parker (San Antonio Spurs), Joakim Noah ( Chicago Bulls), Kevin Seraphin (Washington Wizards) and Boris Diaw (Charlotte Bobcats). Nande De Colo, whose rights are owned by the Spurs, has been a standout off the bench as well.

Gameflow

Spain didn't look the least bit nervous wearing the favorite's crown. And why should they? Their roster is an embarrassment of riches. Consider that Ibaka had five first-half blocks yet could barely earn court time because he was competing with the likes of the Gasol brothers, who combined for 28 points and 16 rebounds.

While Spain had a clear advantage on the interior, their machine is built on five parts moving together at all times. Ball movement, man movement, and skill at every position is a fearsome combination, and the whole thing becomes essentially unstoppable when Navarro is as hot as he has been recently (he scored 26 points in the quarterfinals, 35 in the semifinals and led all scorers with 27 in the final, earning tournament MVP honors). With Navarro commanding constant attention and drawing 12 free throws worth of fouls, plenty of space opened up in France's defense, and Spain was merciless in attacking from all angles. Their gameplan wasn't as simple as "we know we can score more points than you" but they certainly played with a confidence that suggested they had full faith in their talent advantage.

Spain pushed its lead out to double digits in the second half and cruised through to the 98-85 victory, dishing out 19 assists on 35 baskets and committing roughly half as many turnovers as they created (8 compared to 15). Once France got into a hole they didn't have much chance of digging out. Parker was a one-man show in the second half, as France never established a second or third scorer down the stretch to really push Spain.

Here's the boxscore. Batum finished with 10 points, four rebounds, one assist, one block, and one turnover on 4-for-11 shooting in 32 minutes. 

Batum: Quarter By Quarter

Watching the final was a bit of a letdown after Batum's sensational game against Russia. That said, anything short of a French upset was bound to disappoint. Batum played tough defense throughout and had stretches of electric play in the first half, including some excellent highlight reel footage on a pair of dunks, but he never calibrated his jumper and found himself in foul trouble in the third quarter, making him a non-factor down the stretch. 

Here are a few notes.

First Quarter

France opted for a slightly larger starting lineup than it has played in recent games in an effort to match Spain's length and bulk inside. The match-ups broke out such that Batum often found himself guarding Navarro, who he had to relentlessly chase through screens and deal with in high pick and roll situations. Navarro is very good at creating contact whether he has the ball or not and Batum's constant pressure on the perimeter was therefore only successful to a point.

Batum didn't have much impact in the first quarter, as Parker looked to get his own shot regularly and to establish the French big men early in an effort to draw the Gasols into foul trouble. Batum's first shot was a left angle three-pointer on a catch-and-shoot, which he missed long. Later, he found himself deeper into the left corner with Fernandez chasing out to him. A simple pump fake made Fernandez sail by, and Batum buried the open three-pointer. The difference between Batum's percentage when his feet set versus when he's on the move was ridiculous in this tournament.
 
Navarro didn't do much damage against Batum in the first quarter but there were plenty of early warning signs for France. The most memorable being a step-back, one-footed, leaning three-pointer by Marc Gasol that went in as easy as apple pie. As Gasol mugged for the Spanish bench and backpedaled down the court, you knew this game wasn't going to end well for France.

Batum played nearly the entire first quarter, working hard on both ends but not getting many touches. He went to the bench with less than a minute to play.

Spain led after one period, 25-20. Batum had three points.

Second Quarter

As we saw a few times during the EuroBasket tournament, Batum looked to up the intensity when he checked back in for the second quarter. He made his entrance at the 7:45 mark and used his first two possessions to attack off the dribble. The first time, Navarro was forced to foul him to prevent a clean path to the basket. The second time he turned the corner on Navarro but found the long, reaching arms of Ibaka laying in wait. His running shot attempt was deposited into the stands for a souvenir by the NBA's new premier shot-blocker.

After short-arming a hurried, drifting right angle three-point attempt off of an inbounds pass, Batum got back to attack mode. Operating out of the left corner, he made a short pass to Diaw and then cut off of his notoriously wide teammate towards the baseline. Diaw made a perfectly timed hand off pass, leaving Batum a long, clear path to the basket. Marc Gasol saw the play develop too late and decided not to get posterized, allowing Batum to cruise in for an unmolested two-hand dunk. Soon after, a quick burst move caught Navarro napping, drawing another foul and forcing him to the bench briefly. 

France had its most promising moment of the game when Fernandez stupidly fouled Parker from behind, grabbing his neck and yanking down, sending the French guard to the ground for an extended period of time and beckoning Batum over to the scene of the crime, where he dished out a Dikembe Mutombo finger wag of disappoval in his former teammate's direction. The foul was ruled unsportsmanlike and set off an exciting 7-0 France run when De Colo, who checked in for Parker after the foul, knocked down two free throws.

The other five points were supplied by an energized Batum, who knocked down a right angle three pointer and then stripped Navarro in the open court, cruising in for a gorgeous, emphatic dunk in transition. The burst brought France back within five points, 46-41, but Spain steadied itself by scoring four points in a row to close the half.

When the dust cleared, Spain had extended its lead to 50-41. Batum had 10 points.

Third Quarter

Batum wouldn't score again in this game. Much like Andrei Kirilenko in the semifinal, Batum found himself picking up his third foul too early and being sent to the bench by his coach as a result. Batum was whistled for a cheap, reach in foul when he double-teamed Marc Gasol on a catch in the high post. It was a sloppy play all around and Batum looked shocked by the call. He was forced to sit the rest of the period and the first minute of the fourth. Spain was up 11 when the foul occurred and pushed that lead to 15 while he sat.

The foul capped a frustrating quarter for Batum. He simply couldn't get his three-point shot going. He missed a drifting attempt from the right corner, a top of the key attempt that he created with a series of crossover dribbles, and a right angle three off of a dish from Parker. After coming alive against both Greece and Russia in the second half, Batum simply couldn't get things into gear. Without offensive production from him, France's doom mounted.

Defensively, Navarro, who is a scoring machine, continued to plug away. He got a half step on Batum turning the corner, drawing Batum's second foul early in the quarter. He was given and converted two free throws for the effort because Spain was in the bonus. He also used a dribble move to shake Batum hard, getting himself open for a step back three, which he drained. He was in the zone, doing whatever he wanted, when he wanted. 

The highlight of the quarter for Batum was chasing down a loose ball and saving it as he jumped out of bounds. The save found its way to Parker, who pushed tempo and found Mickael Gelabele in secondary transition for a three-pointer.

After three quarters, it was still all Spain, 75-62. Batum still had 10 points.

Fourth Quarter

The fourth quarter was pure frustration for France. No way to slow down Spain and no way to keep up on the other end. Batum re-entered at the 8:50 minute mark and then was subbed out at the 1:09 mark with the game out of reach. 

Batum was remarkably invisible in his final eight minutes of play. On the plus side, he drew a foul on Ibaka, who couldn't keep up with him off the dribble, and smartly tapped a defensive rebound to a teammate, Marcus Camby style. The play wound up leading to a run out basket.  

Otherwise, he was a passive observer on both ends. He missed a left corner three-pointer, with his feet set, on a perfect pass from Parker, the type of attempt, the announcer lamented, that Batum had knocked down all tournament long. He was also whistled for a fourth foul, pure frustration, when he needlessly contacted Navarro way out on the perimeter.

France's offense devolved into "every man for himself" ball, which has never been Batum's strong suit. He mostly watched as his teammates attempted jumpers and Spain's momentum grew with the clock ticking down. Subs for both teams got a few minutes of garbage time play to close it out.

Victory was clearly Spain's, 98-85. Batum finished with 10 points, none in the second half.

Match Rating

In the spirit of soccer write-ups, we'll give Batum a "match rating" for each of the EuroBaskest games from here on in. We'll use a 1-10 scale calibrated as such: 1 = passive, invisible Batum; 5 = inconsistently awesome Batum; and 10 = Better than any Batum we've seen in a Blazers uniform.

Against Spain, it's difficult to heap praise. He drew a tough assignment against Navarro, and did well, but he was ultimately outplayed and was a non-factor due to the fouls and his broken jumper in the second half. I'll give Batum an eight for his first half play and a four for his second half. We'll call that a 6 overall.

In the six games that I graded during EuroBasket, Batum earned the following scores: 6, 4, incomplete, 7, 9, 6. The incomplete, of course, came when France tanked against Spain in an inconsequential second round game.

Averaging the other five scores gives Batum a tournament grade of 6.4. Given steady minutes and lots of leeway, and playing against inconsistent competition, it's fair to say that he played better, on average, than he did last season. His defensive presence, especially, had a more pronounced and regular impact in this tournament. As always, though, there were flashes of brilliance and spurts of invisibility.

Update: As Meru notes in the FanShots, Batum was named to the All-European Championships second team for his play.

For the entire tournament, Batum averaged 13.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 2.0 steals and .6 blocks in 31.5 minutes per game in 11 games. Those numbers are remarkably similar to what he posted in the 2010-2011 NBA season: 12.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, .9 steals, and .6 blocks in 31.5 minutes.  

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter