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Blazers At 2012 London Olympics: Nicolas Batum, Victor Claver & Joel Freeland Compete On Tuesday


On Tuesday, all three Portland Trail Blazers competing in the 2012 London Olympics continued group play for their respective home countries. Forward Victor Claver and Spain beat Australia, 82-70. Big man Joel Freeland and Great Britain lost to Brazil, 67-62. Forward Nicolas Batum and France beat Argentina, 71-64.

Round-robin group play continues for the next week before an 8-team knockout round will commence to eventually decide the gold medal.

Here's a look at the performances of all three Blazers on Tuesday. Game ratings -- on a 1-10 scale -- are included.

In case you missed it, here's a link to the Game 1 recaps. Also, at the bottom is an video recap of Sunday's Olympics Basketball action. At some point on Wednesday, a video recap of Tuesday's action will be added as well. Clicks on those are very much appreciated.

Spain 82, Australia 70

Box score

Victor Claver: 0 points, 3 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block, 1 turnover on 0-3 shooting in 10 minutes

It's possible that Claver was signed simply to serve as a Luke Babbitt self-esteem booster. Somewhere in a dark room, Blazers scouts are drawing straws to determine who has to find a Spanish translator capable of explaining the concept of the D-League in a sufficiently optimistic manner. "Yes, it's sort of like relegation in soccer except the whole team doesn't get sent down... just you. But you can come back! And Boise is just right around the corner."

I kid, I kid. But given significantly more playing time than he saw during Sunday's opener against China, Claver contributed roughly the same thing: squat. He played bit minutes in the first half and then checked in near the end of the third, staying on to play most of the fourth.

The positives came on defense but the defense wasn't always a positive. His steal came on a nice instinctual play, as he darted back into the passing lane after being picked on a high screen and roll, intercepting a potential assist before jumping into crowd to save the possession to his teammate. The quick all-in-one motion created a transition opportunity for Spain, although they were not able to capitalize. Claver also smartly gave a foul with Spain facing a 4-on-5 defensive situation when teammate Rudy Fernandez was tied up milking contact on the far baseline (with none of the referees paying him the slightest attention). Later, Claver provided nice help defense on Australian reserve Matthew Nielsen, forcing him to pass out of a scoring situation near the rim at the last moment, leading to a turnover.

As in Spain's first game, Claver fell victim to giving up a cheap and-one. This time, horrible footwork and awkward lateral movement found Claver late to defending a Brad Newley drive into the paint, eventually leading to awkward contact. Newley kept his balance and flipped up a prayer that went in. Another defensive error came after he jacked up an ill-advised step-back three and failed to stop or direct the ball in transition, allowing a run out that ended with a Patty Mills lay-up. I have pre-ordered a Rogaine subscription on in anticipation of this happening next March.

Offensively, Claver's best play was a hockey assist, in which he swung the ball in a Lacrosse-like motion to Spanish big man Serge Ibaka, who in turn completed the play by feeding Fernandez for a quick lay-up to beat Australia's team defensive pressure.

The rest was ugly stuff. In addition to the jacked up three already mentioned, Claver's lowlight was over-dribbling on the perimeter as he tried in vain to create a shot. He wound up stripped naked by a help defender under minimal pressure, who keyed a fast break opportunity that resulted in a forced foul.

Claver's other two shots came in the first half. His first attempt was a good in-rhythm three-point look that simply missed. The shot was created by a nice cut through the key and then a release to the corner, where well-timed ball movement found him for an ideal attempt. It came shortly after he checked into the game and was the kind of miss that made you wonder whether he would have had a totally different game if he had come in and hit that shot to get the confidence juices going. His other shot was a one-handed put-back of a free throw attempt just before the halftime buzzer. It wasn't really a legitimate shot attempt and didn't contact the rim.

Not much to see here yet. Move along, folks.

Victor Claver Game Rating: 1 out of 10

Brazil 67, Great Britain 62

Box score

Joel Freeland: 9 points, 3 rebounds and 3 turnovers on 4-for-9 shooting in 30 minutes

It's been a long time since I looked at a box score line and was as surprised as I was after reading Freeland's line. Watching him fairly carefully throughout this game, I marveled at how much energy he was still putting out by the game's end. He faced a very, very good trio of international big men in Tiago Splitter, Anderson Varejao and Nene Hilario -- all NBA players, of course -- and his shortcomings were not caused by a lack of effort. Even deep into the fourth quarter, after playing a vast majority of the game, he was showing hard on high screens, contesting 3-pointers, sprinting downcourt to establish early post position and chasing loose balls. There's a noble Pendergraphian influence that was evident in that breakneck play, regardless of the circumstances.

Freeland's night began with a bloody nose after taking a hard elbow to the face from Varejao early in the first quarter. Attending to the injury kept him out for a few minutes but he played nearly the rest of the game.

He wound up seeing time against all three of Brazil's bigs although the match-up with Splitter was center stage. (You will remember that Blazers head of NBA scouting Mike Born recently compared the two players.) Splitter has topped 20 points just twice in two years with the San Antonio Spurs and is known more for his defense than his offense. In this one, he finished with 21 points on 9-for-11 shooting, adding 6 rebounds. Varejao had 8 points and 6 rebounds; Nene had 4 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks.

Numbers can lie but here Splitter's field goal percentage and Freeland's weak rebounding numbers confirm one of the big worries with Freeland: he will struggle to defend his position, either the four or five, throughout the entirety of possessions at the NBA level.

Freeland battled with Splitter, who had a very nice game. Early on, Splitter tossed in a basket over the top of Freeland, making it look easy by using his length. Freeland countered by diligently working to get under Splitter in hopes of forcing him out of prime position. That didn't always work. On one occasion, Splitter took advantage of Freeland overplaying the ball denial on the top side, sneaking baseline for an easy basket. On another, he unsuccessfully chased a block shot in the paint, allowing an unguarded Spitter an easy follow-up lay-up. Late, Splitter made a crucial basket by diving into the paint after setting a high screen, collecting a nifty pass before Freeland had a chance to recover or the help could arrive.

When Freeland was matched up against Nene, the Brits usually brought a double team so that it wouldn't turn into a punishing back-down situation, although Freeland again worked hard to keep his man away from the low block early in possessions. Nene usually obliged the double by moving the basketball quickly. Against Varejao, the most memorable play was a real blunder: Freeland rushed out to defend a pump fake at the three-point line, allowing Varejao to waltz to the basket for an easy lefty lay-up. The announcers rightfully panned that one.

There was one other tough defensive play: Freeland was whistled for a touch foul as Nene completed a dunk to finish off a broken play. The dunk gave Brazil a 6-point lead late and the resulting offensive rebound on the missed free throw removed most of the remaining drama. Freeland was heated at the foul call and rightfully so. Nene's stretch to finish the dunk made it look like he was contacted from the side by Freeland's late block attempt but there didn't seem much to it.

Offensively, Freeland unveiled a bunch of tricks. He repeated his go-to move on the left block, one that was first shown against the Russians. Here, he beat Varejao to the baseline with a drop-step, dribbling with his left hand to get the angle before finishing with his right hand on the opposite side of the hoop, drawing an and-one in the promise. He did well to use his body to create initial contact to feel out Varejao's positioning as he executed the move, making it all look easy once it was go time.

Freeland went to that "make initial contact" plan later in the game, this time against Splitter, using a quick bump to create space to uncork a turnaround jumpshot. That one missed. He went back to the turnaround on two occasions later, though, and hit both. The first went in over Splitter from 15 feet and the next came against Nene, from a few feet further.

There were a handful of less successful ventures. He tried to pound one-on-one against Nene, for example, and wound up getting his two-handed attempt blocked cleanly at the rim with relative ease. The pure power game simply wasn't going to work. Late in the game, Freeland was hit with a charge for dropping his shoulder into Varejao's chest on a drive into the paint. Varejao embellished on the play but it was a clear charge. Freeland's most crucial offensive error, though, came as he attempted to do too much off the dribble, losing his handle on the ball as he attacked the paint. The ball went flying out of bounds, turning possession over to Brazil as they clung to a 4-point lead with 2:05 remaining in the game. It was a big swing play.

Although it should be filed under "too little, too late," Freeland did get a basket in the game's closing seconds by attacking the paint hard again and drawing a goaltending call on Nene when he cheekily flipped up a shot from 8-feet on the move. The Brits needed a quick basket in the time/score situation and Freeland delivered. It was a hard, aggressive drive and one that made you think he could have done a bit more off the dribble earlier in the contest.

The lasting takeaway from this one wasn't the isolation action on either end but Freeland's nose for the ball. One of his rebounds came on a quick reaction play where he showed good hands to snag it out of the air. He saved an offensive possession with a tip on an offensive rebound. His registered offensive rebound created an opportunity for a teammate's wide open jumper. And, in his most prototypical moment, he dove on the floor for a loose ball with no teammates and four opponents in the screen.

He came up short on that play and in this game. But, as mentioned on Sunday, it was fun to watch and there are some helpful skills for the Blazers here, despite the flaws.

Joel Freeland Game Rating: 6 out of 10

France 71, Argentina 64

Box score

Nicolas Batum: 14 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, 3 turnovers on 5-for-9 shooting in 28 minutes

The French sprung the upset here in a war of attrition, as the Argentinians faded down the stretch after over-relying on their five starters -- each of whom played 32 or more minutes out of 40 -- while eight Frenchmen saw double figures in playing time.

After a timid, injury-shortened stinker in the opener against the USA, Batum was a major key to the victory in this one. Argentina's attack boils down to Manu Ginobili and Luis Scola; anyone else that contributed meaningfully would have been a pleasant surprise. Here, the two stars scored 42 of Argentina's 64 points and watched their teammates shoot 7-for-27 from the field. Ouch.

Batum was matched up against Ginobili on both ends for almost the entire game. Going from the LeBron James/Kevin Durant/Kobe Bryant triumvirate to Ginobili in international ball isn't much of a drop off at all. Really, it could be argued that Ginobili is more difficult to cover than Bryant in this setting.

Understanding the limitations of Argentina's roster, France and Batum had the luxury of approaching this game hoping that Batum could keep the match-up close but being more than satisfied if he simply kept Ginobili from completely going off. Ginobili finished with 26 points, 5 rebounds and 1 assists on 9-for-20 shooting. By that standard, Batum and company passed the test.

This wasn't just scraping by. It took all of 12 seconds for Batum to let everyone who wrote him off after the USA game know that he wasn't going quietly to the doghouse. On the game's opening possession, he received a hand-off on his favorite baseline cut and rose high to throw down a big-time dunk with two hands.

Someone clearly got into his ear after the USA game about paying more attention to the boards. Batum watches a lot of film so perhaps that voice was his own. Regardless, he was diligent in getting back to the endline to retrieve rebounds rather than standing and watching. He didn't do anything on the offensive glass but, here, making an impact on one end was better than zero. France's command of the glass (+12) was a major factor in deciding this one.

Batum had his three-point shot going but his off-the-dribble game was a mixed bag. The good: he ran a nice screen-and-roll with Ronny Turiaf, finding his teammate on the move for an easy finish. The bad: he came to the ball off of a curl and telegraphed an attempted pass to split two defenders, one that was easily read and picked off for a turnover. The ugly: Batum threw a very lazy entry pass from a perimeter, nearly causing a turnover, and was later forced to heave up an off-balance three against the shot clock because the play had been squandered. (He almost repeated that passing carelessness in the open court late in the game, but was saved by a bail out foul call on Andres Nocioni.)

Two other moments showed the aggressiveness that is often called for from him. On one, he took the ball off the rim (what would be goaltending in the NBA) and dribbled the length of the court, sliding past Ginobili as he entered the paint to throw up a runner, which rimmed off. It wasn't the prettiest play but the idea was there. More importantly, it was his third shot in the game's opening two minutes, a continuation of the extra energy with which he started. Much later, he threw up a pump fake to get Andres Nocioni out of position and then drove hard to the baseline, swooping back in to finish with his left hand. It was a very pretty play.

The stat sheet didn't reflect all that Batum did off the dribble though. One play saw him execute a nice pump fake and feed Tony Parker in the left corner for a great look at a wide open three, which missed. He later executed a similar maneuver from the right corner, finding Nando de Colo for an open three from the right angle, which also missed.

Batum's threes weren't particularly remarkable. He hit one when he found himself wide open on a long rebound and a shot clock reset; he hit one from the left angle in Ginobili's face; he knocked in a big one in the fourth quarter just seconds after he checked into the game following his rotation rest. All were good looks.

Defensively, considering his match-up, Batum played well. Nate McMillan and Monty Williams used to get on Batum a lot for his mental lapses on that end, and there were at least two noticeable ones in this game. On both, Ginobili, the craftsman, made him pay. First, Batum simply lost contact with Ginobili while playing weakside defense. That's a no-no, obviously, as the quick cut into the paint for a lay-up while his head was turned was practically inevitable. Second, Batum got caught cheating top-side while Ginobili set a back pick for Scola. The pick was top-shelf, Scola's defender was unable to recover and Batum was closer to the three-point line than the rim when the ball quickly found Scola for a gimme lay-up.

The play so distressed Batum that he held his head in such shame and anger that it briefly appeared as if he was worried his noggin was going to fall off. He moved on, but you couldn't help but wonder whether he was hearing the voices of coaches past screaming at him. Or, perhaps, he was hearing voices from the French sideline in the present too.

Batum ran into a brief stretch of foul trouble but did very well to play Ginobili physically and contest his shots aggressively without drawing whistles. Indeed, he was able to earn a few offensive foul calls, including a Scola charge that he sold well and a Ginobili frustration shove way out near halfcourt that got him really pumped up.

It was, throughout, good fundamental defense. Move the feet, contest shots and not fakes, fight hard through cuts, communicate with the bigs, stay with the man on the drive to make him work, and ball deny whenever possible. He had to sacrifice one lay-up to Scola because of fouls and Ginobili drained a couple of threes when given some daylight, but the consistency in effort was there otherwise. It's the focus that needs perfecting.

His highlights defensively both came against Scola. His block came from behind on a second chance opportunity, on a play that some defenders would have given up on. Batum was cleanly screened out near the three-point line early in the possession and Ginobili kept driving but couldn't finish, the ball finally winding up in Scola's hands. He clearly didn't expect Batum, who had followed the action, to be behind him, and the block was made cleanly. Batum got Scola again on a critical defensive stop with less than four minutes remainining in the game and France holding a 6-point lead. Batum flew towards the rim, stretching out to full wingspan to deflect a lob pass to Scola, who would have had a chip-in. The deflection led to a turnover and France was off the other way, victory looking much more certain at that second.

That play was one of a number of late Argentinian turnovers that helped seal this game, which was probably the most entertaining of the tournament to date. Batum's contributions were huge, especially on a night that saw Tony Parker shoot 4-for-17 from the field. 40 points from Ginobili and Argentina wins. A no-show on offense from Batum and Argentina wins. Neither happened, and France had just enough.

The key with Batum on this one, and always, is to look at the whole picture and not his shooting numbers. Had Batum gone 1-for-6 from three instead of 3-for-6, some would have said that he failed miserably again, just like the first game. In fact, he was a totally different player -- engaged, competitive, full strength -- but one who still made mistakes that he shouldn't be making. Taking everything together, that leaves this one as a performance worthy of applause, but not gushing.

Nicolas Batum Game Rating: 7 out of 10


Here's my video of Sunday's Olympics Basketball.

Here's Tuesday's video.

-- Ben Golliver | | Twitter