HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Hometown and host-nation favorite Lithuania saved its Olympic qualifying bacon with a win over Slovenia in early action Thursday at EuroBasket 2011.
The crowd faves were just the warm up act, however, as France (as noted by my main man and NBA.com’s John Schuhmann) and Russia played their way into the semifinals with wins …
Russia 77, Serbia 67 (Box Score)
There is only one team still playing in EuroBasket that hasn’t tasted defeat in this competition. Russia has won nine straight games and will take that unblemished mark into a semifinal showdown against France. When you have the most versatile player in the competition, do-it-all swingman Andrei Kirilenko, leading the charge every night, it makes sense that Russia continues to wear down the competition. Kirilenko finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, four steals and two blocks.
“Two years ago we played in the same phase against the same group of great players and the same great coach and we lost, as I said then, by a better team,” said Russia coach David Blatt. “We moved forward from there. We provided our players with the kind of teaching and culture it takes to build a successful national team. We got back two of our main players – Kirilenko and [Viktor] Khryapa, who didn’t play in 2009, and you saw tonight how important they are. But the story is the other players who matured and are now a higher level basketball players. It’s a sweet win, but the joy is short, because we play tomorrow in the semifinals. We’ve had a great run so far.”
Russia’s ensemble cast is extremely strong and showed itself against a game Serbia crew, led by HT fave Milos Teodosic, who finished with 20 points but just three assists and nine critical turnovers and also missed two potential game-changing 3-pointers late in the contest, and Nenad Krstic (13 points and five rebounds). Serbia will face Greece for a spot in the top six, with the winner securing a date with Lithuania to battle for fifth place.
“It was a very important game for us, but we didn’t play at the level we were supposed to play if we wanted to win this game,” said Serbia’s Dusko Savanovic. “They played very fast and aggressive basketball. Russia jumped and grabbed rebounds over our heads. We made too many turnovers and that’s why we didn’t win this game. We had some injuries but that’s not an excuse. We’ll try to forget this game and focus on the one we have early tomorrow, because we still want to make it to the Olympics.”
France 64, Greece 56 (Boxscore)
For three quarters, this was a slow and ugly basketball game, which is just the way Greece liked it, and they led 43-40 heading into the fourth. But behind 18 combined points from Nicolas Batum and Tony Parker, the France offense broke loose in the final period to gain the third spot in the semifinals.
Batum, Parker and Nando De Colo combined to score 49 of France’s 64 total points. De Colo came off the bench in the first quarter and almost single-handedly led France out of an early, 11-point deficit. Parker got them the lead early in the fourth, and Batum was huge down the stretch. He sandwiched two jumpers around a block on a Nick Calathes drive to put France up six with just over a minute to go.
France had the third most efficient offense (111 points per 100 possessions) in pool play, but they found a way to win ugly in a game with huge stakes. That’s a step forward for French basketball, and it means they’ll be playing for an Olympic berth on Friday.
- Parker had four big buckets in that fourth quarter, but he needed 18 shots to score his 18 points. Batum (15 points on nine shots) and De Colo (16 points on eight shots) were much more efficient.
- Joakim Noah shot a putrid 1-for-8 from the field, but he defended Ioannis Bourousiswell in the post (most of Bourousis’ 17 points came elsewhere), grabbed eight rebounds, and basically sealed the game by keeping the ball alive on the offensive glass in the final minute. He sat for most of the third quarter after suffering a cut on his nose in the period’s first minute.
- Bourousis seemed to be the only guy doing anything offensively for Greece. They shot 3-for-21 (0-for-5 in the fourth quarter) from 3-point range and stayed in the game late by getting to the line. Greece had just two field goals in the fourth quarter.
- France shortened their rotation quite a bit, with just six guys playing 10 minutes or more. Greece played nine guys at least 10 minutes.
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