France and Serbia both playing their best at the right time


VIDEO: France and Serbia advance to the semifinals

MADRID — We knew that Spain’s road to the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup final was tougher than that of the United States. France proved that with its 65-52 upset of the hosts on Wednesday.

That wasn’t the only surprising result in the quarterfinals in Madrid. After looking like the third best team in the tournament through its first six games, Brazil got hammered by Serbia 84-56. So instead of Spain-Brazil in the semis, we’ve got France-Serbia on Friday (4 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

France and Serbia finished third and fourth in Group A. But they’re both playing their best at the right time, and at least one of them will be winning a medal. Their first meeting went down to the wire, with France winning 74-73 thanks to a no-call on one end and a foul call on the other.

Serbia was upset about that finish. And they were upset about the way they lost in the semifinals of the last edition of this tournament. Up 82-81 on host Turkey with 4.3 seconds left, Serbia just needed a stop to advance to the final and guarantee itself a medal. They forced a loose ball, but Turkey point guard Kerem Tunceri picked it up and drove for a layup to win the game.

The issue? Replays showed that Tunceri’s foot was on the sideline when he first touched the ball. And that was just one of many calls that Serbia, who lost to Lithuania in the bronze medal game, was upset about. So they’re out for some revenge on Friday, in more ways than one.

The winner will face the U.S. for the gold medal on Sunday, and will be the toughest opponent the Americans have faced in the World Cup. The loser will face Lithuania for bronze. Here are five things to watch…

Offense vs. defense

Serbia had the World Cup’s fourth most efficient offense through the quarterfinals, having scorched Brazil’s defense (which had ranked third through the round of 16) in the second half on Wednesday. France comes in with the fourth best defense in the tournament, having shut down Spain’s No. 2 offense in the quarterfinals.

Both performances were impressive. The other end of the floor will matter too, but if France can slow down the Serbian offense, they’ll be in good shape.

Another (big) game for Milos?

Milos Teodosic is one of the most entertaining basketball players in the world. The 6-foot-5, 27-year-old combo guard was coming off the bench for Serbia in its first four games, but has started the last three. And he saved his best performance for the quarterfinals, dropping 23 points on Brazil, with 16 of those coming in what was a tight first half.

Teodosic will take some crazy shots, but they often go in. And if he’s hitting from the outside, Serbia’s pick-and-rolls become very difficult to defend and other things open up in their offense.

France’s young bigs

It’s difficult to say that France is “missing” Joakim Noah, because the Bulls’ center has only played in one tournament (2011 Eurobasket) for them. They are missing two centers from last year’s Eurobasket championship team: Alexis Ajinca and Johan Petro, as well as the Pacers’ Ian Mahinmi, who injured his shoulder before the World Cup began.

That left 22 year olds Joffrey Lauvergne and Rudy Gobert to man the center spot. The 6-foot-10 Lauvergne is a natural power forward who was a non-factor on last year’s team. Gobert wasn’t on the roster.

But the two young guys have held their own and played their best games against the Gasol brothers on Wednesday. For Gobert in particular, it was a breakout performance, as he outrebounded Pau and Marc 13-12.

Having played two years for Partizan Belgrade, Lauvergne has some extra motivation against this particular opponent. In the first meeting, he (19 points, six rebounds) went toe-to-toe with former Milwaukee Buck Miroslav Raduljica (21 and seven). And it was Lauvergne’s free throw after a foul call on Raduljica that won the game for France with 4.8 seconds left. It’s a fascinating matchup of quickness vs. size.

Batum vs. Bogdanovic

Teodosic’s move to the starting lineup sent Phoenix Suns draft pick Bogdan Bogdanovic to the bench. But the 22-year-old, who will be playing in Turkey this season, responded well. He scored 21 points in Serbia’s Round of 16 win over previously unbeaten Greece and has shot 12-for-20 (6-for-12 from 3-point range) in his two games in Madrid.

Bogdanovic is clearly shorter than his listed height of 6-foot-6 and French forward Nicolas Batum has a few inches on him. But Batum considers Bogdanovic a serious challenge.

“He’s one of the guys I hate to play against,” Batum said earlier this week. “I hate guarding him, because he can really score.”

Bjelica vs. Diaw

These two teams have two of the most skilled power forwards in the tournament, providing another fun matchup.

Serbian forward Nemanja Bjelica, whose draft rights are held by the Minnesota Timberwolves, is a tantalizing player. He’s 6-foot-10 with terrific all-around skills. He didn’t score a lot in the quarterfinals, but beat Brazil’s bigs off the dribble to create for others, dishing out five assists, while scoring eight points and grabbing eight boards.

Boris Diaw has the size and quickness to match up well with Bjelica. His passing skills are well known, and he was more aggressive against Spain on Wednesday, taking 12 shots and hitting three of his seven 3-pointers.

22 Comments

  1. harriethehawk says:

    Get a grip people. I love basketball, I love the Hawks, I love OKC and I’m going to love watching USA win the Gold on Sunday! How do you like them apples?

  2. Todd says:

    Boris the wizard craft your magic and bring the victory- SPURS ROCK and you know it! jajajajajajaja

  3. PalmOilPlease says:

    Boris Diaw is the greatest basketball mind in the game if FIBA/NBA . His fast start spewed confidence to rest of his team and his defense on Marc help tame the three headed dragon of Gasols & Ibaka. In addition he a positionless player who just takes the game is it comes. He is point player when the ball is in his hand most of the time good things happen. Not a French fan but I’m excited to see the battle between him and Serbia’s center. If he keeps him under a double double France will win.

  4. TTKIN says:

    I hope France wins their next game simply cuz I want to see Diaw in the gold medal game against the US. I love watching that guy play.

    In the Finals against MIA, it was funny how difficult it was for them to guard him. He bitchslapped that team so bad and to the average basketball fan, he is a complete nobody.

    Still hope Team USA wins, but watching Diaw is a lot of fun.

  5. DaAwesome1 says:

    France would not have had such a big upset if Parker, Mahimi and Noah played. Neither of them can beat USA, but hey, there going to try.

  6. marko says:

    Just one correction. Foul on Lauvergne came 1 second before the end. No call on Bogdanovic was at 4.8.

  7. drago says:

    I hope Serbia wins it they deserve it.

  8. Nast says:

    “That wasn’t the only surprising result in the quarterfinals in Madrid. After looking like the third best team in the tournament through its first six games, Brazil got hammered by Serbia, 84-56.”

    In fact, Brazil victories over France and Serbia during the group stage were upsets/surprises.. nobody was seeing them going 2nd in that group and advancing in semi-finals.. lol
    About Spain”s road to the final, that side of the bracket was overloaded like always, US always got a highway to the semis.. its the price to pay to be able to see NBA players in international competions instead of a corporate team..but its a pleasure for us NBA fans, thx FIBA!!

  9. hehehe says:

    harriethehawk: there are no “things to watch”.
    Exactly, back in 2002 we had no “things to watch” on USA home court in Indianapolis when Serbia (then Yugoslavia) demolished USA with Pierce, Reggie, Ben Wallace, Shawn Marion..etc in squad…you probably had same comments back then as you have now…we will see, Spain already paid the price of being confident and for not respecting the opponents, USA might be the next one…

    • Zorba says:

      And we may add that in 2006 Greece (with no NBA players) beat US squad (Carmelo, Lebron, Bosh, Wayde,…).

      That said, the original Dream Team is my all time favorite team.

    • harriethehawk says:

      And? What does that have to do with the price of beans? USA is taking it this year!

  10. Mladen says:

    …just wait and see, what is a REAL spirit of basketball…

  11. Boris says:

    Great article! Go Serbia!

  12. harriethehawk says:

    This is definitely an “off season” article. C’mon, there are no “things to watch”. This will another sweep, and like someone said in a previous article, “USA” has already been engraved on the gold trophy. Go USA!!!!

    • JayGee says:

      harrie,what’s up in atlanta?

    • Manuel Pineda says:

      Basketball doesn’t end on USA or Spain. That’s why it was interesting to see both Group A and B on first round, because there were a lot of good games. And this one is gonna be a really interesting game to see.

    • jastreb says:

      You just don’t understand but I will try.
      Playing against USA in the finals represents a prize.
      Serbia don’t have Nedovic-Kuzmic duo from GSW because of injuries. We don’t have any NBA players in roster but we managed to go to semis with some players playing in our ridiculous domestic league.
      And don’t be disrespectful to other teams. Here, we all remember 2002 in Indianapolis. You should, too.

    • Jo says:

      there are ‘things to watch’ in this tournament other than USA dominant play… Serbia and France play ball the right way and have some really good and interesting players, and France/Serbia part of the draw produced many good games this tournament.

      dont underestimate others, because its not sportsmanship… remember what happened in 2002, when US team thought they will walk over everyone???

    • Zorba says:

      Was USA also engraved on the trophy in Japan in 2006 ?

    • Colter says:

      Also shows you’re not a basketball fan. Being an NBA fan is cool, but sometimes it’s just about basketball. Watching player’s that have good skills that you don’t see during the season. Some people that are as good or better than the average NBA player. Or even people like Rudy Fernandez that didn’t like the NBA even though he was good so he went back to Spain.