Nicolas Batum, France knock Spain out of FIBA World Cup


I didn’t think it was necessarily possible that France would beat Spain in the quarterfinals of the FIBA World Cup. I also can’t say I’m shocked Spain got tight in a big game and choked away an opportunity to win the gold in front of their home fans and fellow countrymen. And, that’s exactly what happened Wednesday as France defeated Spain 65-52.

France had the perfect game plan heading into their second game against Spain in the last seven days. Unlike the first game, France exactly as they had planned to on defense. It wasn’t pretty, far from it actually, but in the last two major tournaments, France has knocked out their rival prior to the championship game.

This loss definitely cuts the deepest for the Spanish, though. Losing in front on their home court in front of all their fans has to be devastating. Spain was the favorite to win the tournament after their stellar play in the group stage, and their rival, Les Bleus, bounced them, errr… Let them stay home for the medal round. 

Sparked by a hot start and two threes from Boris Diaw, France opened the game on an 11-2 run and set the tone for the entire game. They weren’t going to be man-handled by Spain’s All-Star frontline. Quite frankly, it didn’t seem like Spain’s bigs were able to get involved, as Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol combined for 2-14 shooting.

I’d like to take this moment to take credit for Diaw’s offensive breakout against Spain. I wrote this on Sunday:

"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."

And go crazy, he did to the tune of 15 points on 3-of-7 from three. Well done, Boris.

For Trail Blazers’ wing Nicolas Batum, he didn’t play particularly well in the game, which is fairly surprising considering France actually won. Batum struggled to get separation against Spain’s quick guards and finished 2-of-8 from the field and 0-of-4 from deep. Batum did make five free throws and finished with nine points. He played much better on defense and virtually shut down the Spanish wings, who again weren’t doing themselves any favors with their shot selection.

France did everything right defensively by forcing Spain into jumper after jumper, and Spain didn’t do themselves any favors by shooting 2-of-22 from three-point range and neglecting to feed their big posts. Pau Gasol did finish the game with 17 points, but Marc struggled against the length of France and Utah Jazz’ Center Rudy Gobert and finished with only 3 points in the game. 

On the other end of the court, Spain fluctuated between lazy and overly aggressive on defense. Guards gambled for steals over and over, and got burned over and over on back cuts. The main problem was a lack of rotation with the bigs after one of the guards got beat. The rotation was step late, and France made them pay.  I even lost count of all of France’s back cuts in the first half.

While a Spain-USA final would have been fantastic, I thoroughly enjoyed what I saw in the quarterfinals. Spain looked lost and shocked that France was staying the game. As the game went on, Spain got tighter and tighter. They even had a two-point lead heading into the fourth quarter and got outscored 23-9 in the fourth. It was a classic choke job by the favorites, much like something you’d see in March Madness. 

Batum and France are still alive in FIBA and play Serbia in the semifinals Friday at 1:00 p.m. PDT on ESPN 2. You can guarantee I’ll be watching and rooting for France, of course, and you should too! It’s Batum!

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