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Game Breakdown: Nicolas Batum -- France vs. Lithuania in EuroBasket Group E

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On Wednesday, we kicked off a series of looks at 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. We proceed with his play versus Lithuania on Friday. 

The Stage

France continues to work its way through the second round of the tournament, having qualified for the final, knockout stage by virtue of its win over Turkey. After its game versus Lithuania, France will play Spain on Sunday before entering the quarterfinals. Here's a schedule.

The Opponent

Friday morning, Batum and France faced Lithuania, a team boasting former NBA player Darius Songaila and future NBA player Jonas Valanciunas, the No. 5 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft by the Toronto Raptors.

As a reminder, Batum is joined on France, who is considered one of the top two or three teams in the field, by a number of NBA players: Joakim Noah (Chicago Bulls), Kevin Seraphin (Washington Wizards), Tony Parker (San Antonio Spurs) and Boris Diaw (Charlotte Bobcats). 


Lithuania had a monster advantage in this game thanks to its home crowd, which was louder and more boisterous for a greater portion of the game than any NBA crowd you will see. Vuvuzela-type horns, noise-makers, loud, extended chants and cheers gave this game a World Cup soccer atmosphere. At one point, one of the announcers claimed the crowd was worth "10 to 15 points" for Lithuania because of its dual abilities to encourage the home team and disrupt the visitors.  

What resulted was a fairly stoic performance from France, considering the circumstances. Both teams brought big energy on defense throughout the course of the game and both teams left their outside shooting skills at home.

The French made a point of pounding the ball inside early in the first quarter but the teams simply exchanged baskets through the first 10 minutes. France opened up a slight lead in the second quarter thanks to a boost from reserve guard Nando De Colo. Lithuania briefly pulled back into the lead in the third quarter when France couldn't buy a bucket, scoring just two points in the final seven minutes of the quarter. In the fourth, though, Parker and De Colo combined to take over, capitalizing on a number of steals and turnovers caused by France's team defense to generate some easy points in transition. The French had another unnecessary late-game scare -- as they did against Turkey -- but ultimately held on for the 73-67 victory, pushing their 2011 EuroBasket record to a remarkable 7-0.

Here's the boxscore. Batum finished with 9 points, one rebound, three assists, four steals, and three turnovers on 3-for-9 shooting in 31 minutes.

Batum: Quarter By Quarter

There was quite a bit less to say about Batum in this game, at least compared to Wednesday. He simply wasn't the focal point of the French attack very often. France looked to get him going to start the second half but poor shooting, some sloppy, scattered bad luck and an arena atmosphere that lent itself more to chaos rather than order prevented him from ever getting a rhythm. Defensively, he was solid throughout with a few splashes of the spectacular. All things considered, he was mostly a bit player on Friday night. Given the high-intensity, pressure-cooker atmosphere you would have liked to see him elevate his game and dominate a bit more. It didn't happen. There are plenty of other opportunities ahead should France's success continue. 

Here are a few notes.

First Quarter

Lithuania came out spunky from the opening tip and Batum found himself back on his heels early, as Rimantas Kaukenas drove hard in the open court to float up a lay-up over Batum's outstretched hand. Batum either underestimated Kaukenas' quickness or took the wrong angle, as he should have done better contesting the drive.

Full of confidence, Kaukenas drove hard at Batum into the middle of the French defense a few possessions later. This time, Batum shadowed him closely, contested without fouling, and a six-footer in traffic rimmed out. It felt like a "fool me once, fool me twice" type of situation. Kaukenas would make just one more field goal all night.

Batum's clear offensive highlight of the night was a sight to behold. Receiving a pass in the weakside corner, Batum briefly considered taking his customary three-pointer before favoring a more taxing proposition. As Lithuania's defense slowly closed out, Batum began a purposeful drive to the baseline, using two or three dribbles to beat the defender laterally. It was the type of move and position in which NBA guys often get stuck in the air, opting to kick the ball all the way out with an escape pass to the top of the perimeter. Not here, though. Batum floated underneath the basket and beautifully scooped in a spinning lay-up on the opposite side of the rim. Brilliant.

That play was followed up with another, nearly equally as emphatic, on the other end. Lithuania attempted a lob pass at the rim to Valanciunas, a tall, exceedingly long and fairly mobile big man. Batum sniffed out the play and then snuffed out the pass, looking a bit like Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett when he snares a shot after the buzzer or whistle as a means of intimidation. This was live action, though. With one hand Batum plucked the ball out of the air and, almost in the same motion, began dribbling up court looking to spark something in transition. Lithuania was forced to foul him to prevent Batum's idea from unfolding. He made both free throws.

As far as pure excitement caused by Batum, for both the quarter and the game, that would be as good as it got. 

Later in the quarter, Batum and De Colo combined to produce a steal and get out on the break. De Colo wound up with the ball going to his right hand for a lay-up with Batum filling the left lane. De Colo's attempt missed and Batum did not anticipate the miss or solidify rebounding position for what could have been an excellent putback opportunity. Instead, Lithuania gathered the rebound, pushed tempo back the other way and cashed in with a bucket of their own. Unnecessary four-point swing. 

That was pretty much it for the quarter, other than a missed three from the corner. Batum subbed out with about 1:30 left in the quarter. The first quarter ended with France up, 18-16. Batum had four points.

Second Quarter

Batum checked back in with a little under eight minutes remaining in the second quarter, but you wouldn't have really known it. Play was mostly being dominated by De Colo, who went on to finish with 21 points, as his quickness and instincts had the most impact they have had all tournament.  

Batum scored his only points of the quarter on a shot generated by Parker. The bucket was overshadowed in the quarter by a few minor missteps.

On a rare second quarter possession where he had the ball in his hands on the perimeter, Batum attempted to thread the needle to a cutter. He telegraphed his intentions, though, and the pass was deflected, nearly for a turnover. Later, Batum would lose the ball twice in less than a minute, including a silly violation for taking a step before dribbling after receiving a pass on the move. That violation negated an excellent scoring opportunity, as Batum was cutting hard on a curl and was attacking a wide open Lithuanian paint. Instead, shrill whistle and it was all for naught.

After producing great plays at both rims in the first quarter, he nearly duplicated his feats in the second quarter, only to come up slightly short both times. Defensively, Batum skied high to block a runner, only to contact the ball slightly too late, getting whistled for the goaltend. Offensively, Batum ran hard -- covering a fairly obscene amount of ground in a short time -- to make himself a target for a transition bounce pass through traffic. Catching the ball at full speed, Batum's momentum got the best of him and he attempted to leap and lay up the ball as his body continued horizontally at full throttle. The result was an uncontested missed lay-up. A shame given all the work he put into the play.   

That was about it until halftime. France led 34-22. Batum had six points.

Third Quarter

The third quarter was as ugly as it gets for France, who managed just four combined made field goals in 10 minutes.

Efforts to get Batum going simply weren't successful. Just 16 seconds into the half, Batum launched an angle three, which rimmed out. A few minutes later, he hit a three from the corner, scoring his only points of the quarter. There was a lot of standing and watching in this quarter, especially as both Parker and De Colo struggled with their own shooting and Noah and the other French bigs couldn't create or capitalize on opportunities inside. 

Frustration seemed to mount a touch. He missed a jumper off a curl and, soon after, took a wild runner across the key in traffic, the type of shot you would rarely, if ever, see him hoist with Nate McMillan looking over his shoulder. At another point, his extended effort on the defensive end nearly produced a turnover, but his movement to knock the ball out of a dribble hand-off situation resulted in the ball flying out of bounds off of him rather than his opponent. He wore the chagrin. 

Batum did fine staying into the game defensively and worked hard to fight over the top of screens and paid careful attention when he was on the weakside. He eventually subbed out with about three minutes remaining in the quarter.

Lithuania led as the third quarter ended, 46-43. Batum had 9 points.  

Fourth Quarter

Batum wound up sitting all the way until there were five minutes left in the game. When he reentered, the game was tied at 54-54 thanks to some scoring magic and open court energy from De Colo. For the second straight game, Batum wouldn't score in the final period of a close game and, in this one, he didn't even attempt a fourth quarter shot. France was getting sufficient scoring from other sources, so it wasn't a critical absence on Friday, but, to repeat a sentiment from earlier, it would have been nice to see him step up in a game situation that demanded it from someone.

Also, for the second straight game, Batum made a careless late-game blunder. On Wednesday, you'll remember, he committed a foul that allowed Turkey extra life. On Friday, he turned over the ball in the open court with 1:29 remaining, an error that immediately led to a Sarunas Jasikevicius three-pointer, which cut France's lead to 66-62. The two plays occurred on opposite ends of the floor and in different circumstances, but both put games that were essentially decided back into question. Not good!

You had to like how Batum responded in the aftermath of this mistake.

About a minute after a timeout that followed the turnover, during which a mad at himself Batum crash-landed into a seat on the bench and his teammates kept pointing at their heads -- as if to say, "Stay in the game!" -- Batum beat everyone to a loose ball after a Lithuania three-point miss. In one motion, he gathered the rebound, surveyed the scene and flipped a quick pass up to Parker, who showed incredible intelligence in getting out ahead of Lithuania's guards going the other way. The scoop/flip pass was perfectly timed, and Parker finished it with a lay-up on the other end, pushing France's lead  back to eight points. Comfort restored.

The French wouldn't look back and wound up winning, 73-67.  As mentioned, Batum was scoreless in the fourth quarter and finished with 9 points. 

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 Lithuania, I'll give Batum a five for the first half and a three for the second half. That equals a 4 overall.

Note: This was a bit harsher on the grading. His steals were game-changing but his turnovers were fairly costly. He was not himself offensively and he's graduated from the days where a one-way performance -- especially considering his continued absence on the boards -- was good enough to meet expectations.  

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-- Ben Golliver | | Twitter