Nicolas Batum, France get second chance to defeat Spain


For the second time in one week, France and Spain will meet in the FIBA World Cup. The first time around, Spain left little doubt who was the best team in the tournament so far with a decisive 88-64 victory over Les Bleus and Trail Blazers’ wing Nicolas Batum.

This Wednesday, France and Spain will square off again, but this time it’s the quarterfinals, and the loser goes home. Pressure, pressure, pressure.

As a Batum fan, and de facto fan of France, I can’t express how much I’d like to see France knock off the favorites in front of their home crowd. Nothing that can happen on Sept. 10 could make me any happier than a French victory over Spain. I know Victor Claver “plays” for Spain, but for as much as he does, I think me or you could “play” for Spain, too.

In my preview for the first France-Spain showdown, I joked about France having a puncher’s chance against Spain, because of Batum’s punch to the man-region of Spain’s “La Bomba.”

Well, I’m giving France an even better chance this time around. Why? Pressure!

In the 2013 EuroBasket semifinal against France, Spain crumbled down the stretch and into overtime. The home court advantage worked against Spain, essentially, in that game. France also released Tony Parker on the Spanish, which always helps when you’ve got a future NBA Hall-of-Famer to lead the way. France is without Parker in this tournament, but they have some solid players left to carry the team, one of them is Batum.

I watched the entire Spain-France game in Group play, and it felt closer than a 24-point game. Spain is a much better all-around team than France, but France has a few slight advantages that didn’t get exploited enough, or at all even, in the first game:

1. Nicolas Batum

Batum only scored 11 points against Spain and was held to 5-of-15 from the field, including 1-of-5 from three-point range. As France’s best player, Batum has to be better than that, and frankly, I can’t figure out why he was that bad. It doesn’t make sense.

Spain was not doing anything particularly special against Batum, other than trying to deny him the ball and closing out on him quickly. Often, Batum neglected to pull the trigger from long-range and chose to put the ball on the ground. That’s problematic because one) Spain is huge around the rim with Pau and Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka roaming in the lane, and two) Spain’s quick guards can recover.

I’d like to see France let Batum post-up Spain’s smaller wings, and try to take advantage of the matchup while getting their best player more involved.

2. Evan Fournier

Fournier is a 6’6″ wing with the size and skill to physically overpower Spain’s smaller guards. In the first matchup with Spain, Fournier only played 12 minutes, as he got off to a rough start to the tournament and may have lost Head Coach Juan Orenga’s confidence for a stretch. In those 12 minutes, Fournier went 4-of-7 from the field and scored 9 points.

Fournier was also key in France’s Round of 16 win over Croatia, scoring 13 points in nearly 20 minutes of action. Against Spain in the quarterfinals, Fournier and Batum will be crucial in keeping France in the game. If they play to the best of their abilities, this game should be a lot closer the first matchup.

3. Boris Diaw

Diaw may be the only other player on the French team who has the ability to carry the team against Spain. In the first game, Spain was giving Diaw open three-pointers and staying close on other shooters, making Diaw either shoot or drive. As gifted of a passer as Diaw is, this strategy makes total sense, but Diaw has to make them pay. He’s got to keep shooting open threes, if Spain is going to keep giving it to him, and Diaw has to make it. Here is my message to Mr. Diaw:

Boris, I know you’ll see this because you google your own name. Don’t feel weird; it’s extremely common. Please, for the love of God Shammgod, take ten shots in the game, preferably three-pointers. Even if you make three of the ten attempts, that’s 9 points. Pretend this is a playoff game against the Portland Trail Blazers, and just go crazy.

Even if the Batum-Fournier-Diaw combo has the game of their lives on Wednesday, I don’t know if it will be good enough to beat Spain. If I were the Head Coach Vincent Collet, I would run a pick-and-roll with some combination of Batum, Diaw, and Fournier every single time down the court and go from there. It’s the best way to beat Spain, by isolating their big men and then attacking them.

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