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.
Slovenia 78, Spain 69: Game 2, Preliminary Round
Victor Claver's line: 3 points, 6 rebounds, 1 turnover, 1-for-5 shooting, -2 in 28 minutes
It didn't take too long, but we found a game that totally defeats the point of this style of recap. The headlining action throughout was the host nation's amazing homecourt advantage -- complete with fans jumping up and down and singing through much of the game -- and the meme-tastic sibling duo of Goran and Zoran Dragic, who were damn near unstoppable against Spain's guards. The brothers combined for 30 points on 12-for-21 shooting and had at least three moments of pure telepathy, finding each other for fingertip jumpers and dunks in transition. Watching the crowd go nuts in response to their all-business, no-nonsense heroics in the underdog role was about as fun as international basketball gets.
That's not why we are here, though, and Victor Claver's story was a far less interesting one. At least this can be said: he started off with a (relative) bang. In the first quarter, Claver: grabbed a defensive rebound and wheled to throw a home run pass from baseline to baseline; he grabbed another defensive rebound in traffic; he came all the way across the court to nearly save a possession before carrying into the crowd; he rolled beautifully out of a side screen for Rudy Fernandez, collecting the pass on the move and slamming home a one-handed dunk for his first points of the tournament; he capped a shot from the side without fouling, as if he was playing against his little brother on the playground; and he tapped out an offensive rebound Marcus Camby-style to Marc Gasol, setting up what became an and-one for Ricky Rubio.
All of that happened in a low-scoring first quarter that ended with Spain on top, 14-9. His combined impact in the final three quarters, even though he again played the second-most minutes for Spain behind Gasol, wouldn't equal that early output.
Claver's opportunities were limited by a couple of factors.
First, Spain's offense just wasn't fully clicking with crisp passes like we're used to seeing. There was plenty of ball-stopping by Spain's lead guards, leaving Claver stranded on the weakside without the rock on possession after possession.
Second, and probably more aggravating for Spain: Gasol and Claver just couldn't seem to find the right chemistry on their passing. Slovenia would swarm Gasol, with little other choice, and his crosscourt passes often missed the mark by enough to ruin the possession's flow. Perhaps this shouldn't be totally surprising given Claver's smaller role for Spain in previous years. The worst sequence saw Claver fumble a pass that ended up going the other way for a transition hoop, but there were a few other less drastic misfires that resulted in squandered chances.
Third, as the game continued into the final stages with both teams regularly exchanging leads, Spain's guards played with the bad type of urgency, a little bit too fast and a touch out of control. As Claver generally serves as the release valve, that again left him without anything to release.
These factors created a situation where Claver felt a little extra pressure to shoot the ball when he did finally get it. He didn't make a shot besides the dunk and a few were on him: he took a long two while sliding back, a shot that seemed destined to miss from conception, and he forced a deep three with Spain trailing by five with a minute left in the game. He couldn't get two other threes to go down, although one was a good shot to take, as he was wide open.
He did properly seize an opportunity with four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, finding himself open with the ball at the top of the key after receiving a pass on a screen and pop. He put his head down and drove hard, knowing he would be fouled. Sure enough, he took plenty of contact along the way. With Spain down two at that point, he split a pair of free throws. That completed his scoring for the night.
On the whole, Spain can't be happy with how the Slovenians carved them up going to the hoop, or how they pounded Spain's reserve big men when Gasol and Claver left the game. Because so much of what Slovenia was doing offensively revolved around the Dragics, Claver finds himself essentially off the hook for most of Spain's defensive shortcomings. Often, he was not in the play, cleared out to the weakside as Slovenia attacked elsewhere. This wasn't Gasol's signature night on the defensive end, and Spain's perimeter defense allowed plenty of attacking lanes and regularly failed to close off the paint, even as the points started adding up.
Although Claver wasn't really getting picked on, this game probably serves as a good reminder of how the presence of a long, athletic player like Serge Ibaka, who isn't playing for Spain at EuroBasket, can totally change a defense's dynamics. An undersized four can be exploited in ways that don't involve being posted up in isolation on the block; here, Claver continued to work hard -- evidenced by his six boards -- but he just isn't capable of bringing that "wall" presence to an interior defense that a true four can offer. Spain doesn't really have any outstanding alternatives, though, so they'll have to adjust as best they can.
Spain went 10-1 at the 2011 EuroBasket so any loss counts as a surprise. Their struggles under pressure did give the impression that perhaps this tournament will wind up being a tougher road than originally assumed.
[Update: that last paragraph was edited to remove a factual error. Apologies.]
In the spirit of soccer write-ups, we'll hand out match ratings, taking into account individual expectations for both Claver and Batum. For Claver, we'll use a 1-10 scale calibrated as such: 1 = passive, invisible, losing his match-up; 5 = doing his job; and 10 = career night.
Against Slovenia, Claver earns a 3. He can do more, a lot more, but Spain's coaching adjustments will start and end with getting their guards to keep their heads, move the ball and do a better job of limiting dribble penetration.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter