Welcome to Blazersedge's continued coverage of the 2013 EuroBasket in Slovenia.
In case you missed it over the last few weeks, 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.
France beat Spain in the semifinals on Friday, advancing to the gold medal game against Lithuania on Sunday. Spain beat Croatia to win the bronze on Sunday. Here are links to previous recaps...
Let's get on with a recap of Sunday's action.
France 80, Lithuania 66: Game 11: Finals
Nicolas Batum's line: 17 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 1 block, 1 turnover, 6-for-13 shooting, 3-for-8 three-point shooting, +18 in 36 minutes
France mauled Lithuania in the gold medal game, exacting revenge for a 14-point loss in EuroBasket's second round. France, who struggled with inconsistency earlier in the tournament, clearly saved its best for last. An emotional comeback victory against Spain set the stage for this one, which marks France's first EuroBasket gold medal and its first basketball gold medal in any of the major international tournaments. France went on a 14-0 run before halftime to break open a close game, and they didn't look back.
Batum led the French in scoring; Tony Parker finished with 12 points and three assists, and Boris Diaw added 15 points and six rebounds.
Linas Kleiza led Lithuania with 20 points and five rebounds. Mantas Kalnietis added 19 points and four rebounds.
It's not often that an all-or-nothing championship game is decided in the second quarter, but that's exactly what happened here. Batum was central in the deciding sequence, making plays on both ends to help France build its lead, and then the French put on an absolute clinic for holding a big lead in the second half. They never gave the Lithuanians the slightest sliver of hope, playing hard on both ends with a champion's urgency. The final 20 minutes of the game were really a formality.
For Batum, his best plays all came in the first half. The question after the Spain game was simple: Where had his aggressive offense gone? Why was he only a three-point shooter, and a timid one at that?
Batum addressed that question right off the bat. Lithuania looked to get Kalnietas going right after the tip, but his first lay-up try was blocked from behind by Batum. That didn't stop Kalnietas, as he came right back at Batum a few minutes later to get a bucket. The important point: Batum responded to that basket immediately, coming straight back on France's possession with the intent of being a weapon. He came curling into the paint and finished an up-and-under runner, and from there it was clear that Batum was locked in and ready to go.
That was the first of what would become five straight made field goals for Batum, and he was applying intense pressure to Lithuania's defense along the way. In the first half, Batum: hit a deep left angle three-pointer in the first quarter; drew free throws on a pull-up jumper right behind the free-throw line; executed a pretty reverse pivot dribble move to free himself in the middle, where he was eventually fouled while shooting; hit a three-pointer from the top; and pump-faked before knocking down a three-pointer from the left corner.
After the back-to-back threes, Batum went to the cookie jar one more time, finally coming up empty on a right corner three. It was a momentary blip. Less than a minute later, Batum was credited with a steal when an errant pass landed in his lap, and he took it to the house for a fast-break lay-up.
All told, Batum scored 10 points in that five-minute stretch of the second quarter; France was trailing by three at the beginning of the stretch and leading by nine following his lay-up. The lead would push to 16 before halftime and that was that. Game over.
Batum doesn't get sole credit for this victory -- not with such a balanced, team performance from France -- but he was the catalyst for the deciding segment. His talent really shone through and it was the perfect moment for him to finally get hot from behind the arc. He did it everywhere in the first half. In addition to the defensive plays already mentioned, Batum hit the defensive boards, he saved a possession with a hustle play, he reached around on an entry pass to get a steal, and he batted out another entry pass to blow up a Lithuanian possession.
He made one obvious mistake -- a bad pass to Alexis Ajinca along the baseline that went out of bounds for a turnover -- but he was otherwise essentially flawless. That turnover was offset by his assist, which came after he grabbed a defensive rebound, pushed the tempo, and found Johan Petro wide open for a mid-range jumper. Importantly, his strong overall performance covered up for a slow start from Parker, who had just four points at halftime.
In the second half, Batum went 0-for-6 from the field. Somehow, it didn't matter in the slightest. He got a little trigger-happy on the threes, he forced one running lay-up, he launched a desperation shot at the end of the third that didn't really have a chance, and he couldn't get a curling shot through the paint to fall. In a different game, this could have been problematic, but the Lithuanians just had no spark going and they looked like a beaten team down the stretch.
He made up for the misses elsewhere. Batum contested a shot at the rim, got a hustle defensive rebound off of a long miss, tipped out a defensive rebound to end a possession and cleaned up one final board. It was a quiet but effective second-half performance, and it was way more than enough. France just kept their collective feet on the pedal and that was that. Gold belonged to them.
Here are some video highlights via YouTube user FIBAEuropeTV.
The fan shot of the game via the ESPN3.com broadcast.
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 Lithuania, Batum earned a 10. What a difference 48 hours makes. From near-goat against Spain to hero here, there's no sense nitpicking his cold-shooting second half given the influence his early play had on the result.
Overall EuroBasket Rating
Batum's final stats: 11.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.1 blocks, 1.1 steals, 1.7 turnovers, 45.3% shooting, 25.5% three-point shooting.
Time to tally up Batum's rankings from the tournament. They went as follows...
3, 8, 5, 3, DNP, 6, 9, 4, 8, 3, 10 = 59/100 points
That rounds up to a final EuroBasket grade of a 6, which puts Batum slightly above the "winning his match-up in unspectacular fashion" standard we set for a 5. He earned an average of a 7 during the final knockout round of the tournament despite the rough game against Spain.
Th 2013 EuroBasket will go down for France as the happiest ending possible, after the story hung in the balance on multiple occasions earlier in the tournament. Batum's game-to-game inconsistency and his shooting struggles kept this from being a signature individual tournament for him, but the heights he reached against Latvia, Slovenia and Lithuania are worthy of some excitement.
The takeaway lesson for Batum should be that generating offense through his defensive effort and his activity off the ball is a better formula than hoping the spot-up shot will eventually fall. The tape will also remind him that he doesn't need to go one-on-one in isolation or thread the needle with overly complex passes to put real pressure on a defense. As long as he keeps moving and picks his spots wisely when he's attacking off of the curls he'll do just fine as an asset.
We shouldn't get bogged down in the minutia of Batum's game so much that we can't see the forest for the trees: this was a victory that was a decade-plus in the making for the French National Team. It's a legacy win for Parker and a gold medal that Batum will surely cherish for the rest of his life. Good times.
Top photo via ESPN3.com.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter