Posts Tagged ‘France’

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 14


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried talks about Sunday’s gold medal match against Serbia

NEWS OF THE MORNING
U.S., Serbia match up for gold | France beats Lithuania for bronze | Rose makes an A | Melo says players will avoid Atlanta

No. 1: U.S., Serbia match up for gold — Later today in Madrid, Team USA will play in the gold medal game of the FIBA Basketball World Cup. While Team USA was a near-unanimous choice to qualify for the gold-medal game, their opponent, Serbia, was not; most suspected the host country, Spain, would play their way into the final. But after Spain was eliminated by France, Serbia stormed their way into today’s championship game. And as our guys Sekou Smith and John Schuhmann write, some of the team USA players believe neither Serbia nor the U.S. were supposed to be here…

It’s the U.S. and Serbia squaring off instead, two teams, according to the words that have been dancing around U.S. forward Kenneth Faried‘s head for weeks, that weren’t supposed to leave here with gold.

“This team is different,” Faried said of Serbia after practice on Saturday. “They made it to the championship round when others thought they couldn’t. We made it to the championship round when others thought we’d fall. We’re going to go out there and put it all on the floor just to win the gold.”

Faried and the U.S. fighting off the favorite’s tag now seems a bit preposterous, what with the way the U.S. National Team has mowed down the competition. They’ve won their eight games leading up to this point by an average of 32.5 points, a number skewed a bit by the 59-point blowout of Finland in their opener.

“I never knew we were a heavy favorite,” Faried said. “That surprises me because before, when we first started, everybody said we were going to lose and we’re not that good. So as far as being a heavy favorite, we just have to take that for what it is and go out there like we’re the underdogs still.”

Serbia is playing the underdog card as well.

“They underrated us from the beginning, as I heard,” Miroslav Raduljica said after his team’s win over France on Friday. “We showed everybody that we can compete and play basketball, in a good way.”

***

No. 2: France takes bronze: In the FIBA third place game yesterday, France defeated Lithuania 95-93 to win bronze, their best-ever finish at the event. France was led by Boris Diaw and Nicolas Batum, and the final seconds of the game were basically a foul-shooting contest…

The European champions seemed to have clinched the issue with about a minute left in the game, but Adas Juskevicius’ three-point play brought Lithuania within one, 86-85, with 16 seconds to play.

The teams were then involved in a tactical exchange of fouls and France stayed ahead with every exchange.

Jonas Maciulis was fouled with a second left. He made his first free-throw to get Lithuania within 95-93 and then strategically missed the second in order to give himself and his team-mates a chance at an offensive rebound and a quick shot. However, no Lithuanian player was able to control the ball, which went to Florent Pietrus who sprinted past halfcourt to run out the clock and seal the game.

In all, the final 16 seconds of the game saw 11 fouls committed, resulting in 22 free-throws attempted.

Down 71-64 at the end of the third quarter, France found their savior in Boris Diaw. The 32-year-old, who strove to find his rhythm in the first three periods, found his form as he accounted for eight of France’s 31 points in the final period. He finished with 15 points.

Nicolas Batum was at the fore-front of France’s offense throughout the game and finished with a game-high 27 points.

***

No. 3: Rose grades an A: Throughout the FIBA World Cup, many eyes have been trained on Derrick Rose. After missing most of the last two seasons with injuries, Rose has used the World Cup to get into competitive shape for the upcoming season. While he may have started slow, Rose has been increasingly aggressive throughout the tournament. Rose says he feels great heading into camp, and for him, the World Cup has been nothing but a success…

“I would give it an A in my mind,” Rose said. “Just coming off of what I had to go through and actually getting a spot on the USA team after missing two years of basketball? Like, c’mon man. It shows that I at least worked somewhere and hard work pays off. If anything, it gives me more confidence to head into the regular season.”

Rose said he will enter Bulls training camp in just over two weeks in the best physical condition he ever has entered a camp. And this is after back-to-back knee surgeries.

“I think I’m going to be far ahead of people, especially on my team,” Rose said. “Nobody in the world is getting this type of competition right now, where you’re playing against different people every night, a different style of play every night, chasing people around.”

Rose, who won a gold medal at the 2010 World Championships in Turkey, said playing for Team USA has only enriched his already-high confidence level.

“I think I accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish but winning this championship. And that’s (Sunday),” he said. “After that, that’s the icing on the cake.

“But looking back at it, my whole mindset was just getting on the team. You had younger players who had great years since I been out, great guards who had great years. Just trying to show them that I’m still one of the best out there. I think I was going into camp with a chip on my shoulder.

***

No. 4: Melo says players will avoid Atlanta: While the Atlanta Hawks work to undo the damage caused by Danny Ferry’s race-related remarks on a conference call, Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony spoke out strongly yesterday to the New York Post about how NBA players now view the Hawks’ franchise…

“[There] ain’t nobody [who] would want to go there,” Anthony said at the Citi Carmelo Anthony Basketball ProCamp at Baruch College Saturday morning. “At the end of the day, Atlanta … I think it puts Atlanta back even further now, from that standpoint.”

The Hawks franchise has been under fire after the Hawks and the NBA announced Sunday morning that the team’s majority owner, Bruce Levenson, was selling his controlling interest in the franchise after an internal investigation uncovered a racist email he sent to other team executives in 2012. That investigation began after general manager Danny Ferry said on a conference call with the team’s ownership group in June that potential free agent target Luol Deng, “He’s got some African in him. And I don’t say that in a bad way.”

Ferry took an indefinite leave of absence from the Hawks on Friday, but the damage to the franchise already has been done in the eyes of one of the NBA’s biggest stars.

“Atlanta is a great city, a great market, great people, great atmosphere,” Anthony said. “But as far as the comments were made, I think it was uncalled for. From an owner, from a GM, those are not things you play with.

“As a player, as an athlete, we’re looking for a job, we’re trying to find a place where we can move our family, we can make our family comfortable, where we can be comfortable in a comfortable environment, but those comments right there, we would never look at. I’m speaking on behalf of all athletes. We would never look at a situation like that, I don’t care what it is.”

With Levenson already agreeing to sell the team and the possibility Ferry already has served his last official day on the job, the franchise is taking steps toward moving on from the issue. But Anthony said, given the amount of time over which this has taken place, it’s going to take more than a couple of faces changing to fix the problems in Atlanta.

“It’s going to take a collective effort,” Anthony said. That’s not going to change overnight. I don’t think that just happened overnight. That’s been an accumulation over the past couple years. A lot of people think that it just happened, but it’s been going on for the past two or three years now … these are conversations that have been ongoing.

“We just have to stop it. We have to stop that. This is not the league for that. As players coming in, we want to play and make a good career out of everything, and from [former Clippers owner Donald] Sterling to this situation, just pushing everything back.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Rudy Gay has a fractured jaw and a broken tooth … Boris Diaw celebrated France’s bronze medal by posting a selfie … Charlotte coach Steve Clifford says Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has “transformed” his jump shot … The one member of Team USA who has had staying power? Mike Krzyzewski … Longtime NBA big Melvin Ely has signed with Japan’s Gunma Crane Thunders.

Teodosic, Serbia take red-hot offense into final vs. U.S.


VIDEO: Serbia holds off France to advance to gold medal game

MADRID – As the United States prepares for the gold medal game of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup on Sunday, Milos Teodosic will be at the top of the scouting report, and not because No.4 is listed first on the Serbia roster.

Teodosic led Serbia to a 90-85 victory over France with 24 points on 9-for-12 shooting on Friday. He has quickly become “Medal Round Milos,” leading a team that went 2-3 in group play to an improbable trip to the final, where he will face the U.S. for the first time in his life.

Most NBA fans who have watched the 6-foot-5, 27-year-old Teodosic over the years have wished to see him bring his scoring and playmaking to the NBA. We’ll finally get a taste of what that may be like on Sunday.

Like his team, Teodosic had a slow start to the World Cup. After suffering an ankle injury, he had to sit out of practice until a week before the tournament began. He didn’t start Serbia’s first four games and scored a total of 19 points on 7-for-15 shooting in narrow losses to France and Brazil in Granada.

Then, he was put in the starting lineup, and as Serbia beat those same two teams in Madrid to reach the final, Teodosic scored a total of 47 points on 14-for-21 shooting, hitting eight of his 12 attempts from beyond the arc.

“Milos is an unbelievable player,” Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic said. “Right now, he’s an MVP of this competition, absolutely.”

Teodosic came out firing from the start of Friday’s win, hitting a quick-trigger, catch-and-shoot jumper on the first possession of the game. He scored or assisted on 13 of Serbia’s first 18 points of the first quarter, and then on seven of their first nine of the second, helping them build a double-digit lead.

If the defense sagged, Teodosic stroked a jumper with a lightning-quick release. If it played him tight, he went to the rim. And if France double-teamed him on pick-and-rolls, he found the open man, whether he was under the basket or in the corner.

“You can’t let him free,” France forward Nicolas Batum said afterward. “He’s been doing damage in Europe for years and years now.”

Batum took on the Teodosic defensive assignment late, and France had some success defending him with length, which the U.S. will have more of. With Batum trailing, Rudy Gobert and his wingspan doubled on pick-and-rolls to get the ball out of Teodosic’s hands without giving him open passing lanes.

But at opened up things for Phoenix Suns draft pick Bogdan Bogdanovic, who scored 10 of his 13 points in the final period on a catch-and-shoot 3, a pair of drives and free throws. France made a furious comeback, cutting a 15-point deficit at the end of the third quarter down to two, hitting nine 3-pointers in the fourth.

They scored 39 points in the period, but the team that had shut down Spain just two days earlier couldn’t get enough stops against the Serbia offense. As France was making its run, Serbia still scored 10 times in a stretch of 11 possessions. Teodosic added to Bogdanovic’s fourth-quarter flurry with another pull-up 3 and two assists to Nenad Krstic.

The team that has defeated Greece, Brazil and France in the last six days is not the team that went 2-3 in Group A. Those three teams were all top-seven defenses through group play, and Serbia has shot 54 percent (46 percent from 3-point range, 61 percent effective field goal percentage) against them in Madrid.

Though Serbia doesn’t have a single player on an NBA roster, it will be the toughest test the U.S. has faced all tournament. And stopping Milos Teodosic will be priority No. 1.

“They are a great team,” Teodosic said, “but, for sure, we’re not going into the game to lose.”

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.

U.S. trounces Lithuania 96-68


VIDEO: U.S. uses big third quarter to rout Lithuania

BARCELONA — Any team with designs on knocking off the U.S. National Team before it gets to Madrid and collects gold here at the FIBA World Cup better be ready for the wave.

That wave would be a star-studded second unit capable of generating as much energy and plenty of production on any given night.

Klay Thompson lit the flame in Thursday’s 96-68 semifinal win over Lithuania, carrying the U.S. early, before a quick 10-0 run after halftime turned a tight game into yet another rout at Palau Saint Jordi.

With James Harden and Stephen Curry struggling with their shots, fouls and defense, Thompson served as the emotional spark the U.S. needed to avoid the upset bug that bit Spain a night earlier in a quarterfinal in Madrid. He had 14 points by halftime, when the U.S. held a 43-35 lead, and was locked in on defense from the moment he hit the floor.

He helped turn what was supposed to be the toughest test of the competition, to date, into a laugher minutes after halftime. U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski was the first person up off the U.S. bench at the dead ball that ended that 10-0 run, fist-pumping his team’s energy and effort during yet another break out stretch.

The U.S. has had one in each and every game they’ve played throughout this competition, overwhelming the opposition at one point or another with their athleticism, speed, length and defensive intensity.

“We’re relentless,” Kenneth Faried said. “We’re relentless.”

That’s exactly what they were during that third quarter run, which ran all the way up to 18-2 and eventually knocked out a Lithuanian team that has historically played the U.S. tougher than most, dating back to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

But once the U.S. got rolling, there was no chance this one stayed close. Thompson finished with 16 points. Harden matched his 16, all of them coming during that burst after halftime. Curry added 13 and Kyrie Irving led the U.S. with 18, giving Faried and Anthony Davis a night off, at least in the scoring department.

“It had nothing to do with energy,” Irving said of the U.S. second half blitz. “Whatever is needed, we make the necessary adjustments and then just try and go for the win.”

Sunday’s gold medal game (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) in Madrid is an opportunity for this team to make history by allowing the U.S. to become  just the third country to repeat as World champions. Brazil (1959 and 1963) and Yugoslavia (1998 and 2002) are the others

That marquee matchup between the host nation team and the team filled with NBA stars was hijacked Wednesday night when France upset Spain 68-52 in the quarterfinals in Madrid. Sunday’s final won’t have that sizzling subplot, but that’s not something the U.S. contingent seems to care much about.

They avoided talking about Spain for weeks, no matter how many different ways people tried to get them to address the topic. Now they’ll get to two days to prepare for either France or Serbia, who square off in the other semifinal Friday night in Madrid.

Favored U.S. keeps focus on Lithuania


VIDEO: FIBA: Day 2, Quarterfinals Wrap

BARCELONA — That fine line between confident and cocky, the one the favorites always walk, is being navigated carefully by the U.S. National Team here at the FIBA World Cup. Upsets have a way of forcing reality onto teams, even one filled with NBA stars who believe, no matter the odds, that they won’t come all this way without leaving with gold.

Mike Krzyzewski‘s unyielding respect for the process and the rest of the field makes much more sense now that France has toppled Spain on the other side of the bracket, leaving a golden opportunity in front of the U.S. as the Americans square off with Lithuania today (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) for the right to advance to the gold medal game Sunday in Madrid.

“We know what a great team Lithuania is and how well they’ve played the whole tournament,” U.S. guard Steph Curry said during a Thursday morning news conference alongside Coach K. “We obviously knew what happened (to Spain) but it didn’t affect in anything in our preparation. Nobody  really expected it, they beat pretty well in pool play. But that’s the beauty of the tournament. Everybiody gets another chance to get to the medal round and then it’s a one-and-done process. And that makes it even more important for us to come out and focus and take care of our business. Everybody knew about it (France upsetting Spain). But our job is to beeat Lithuania and worry about who we’re going to play in Madrid. That’s the mentality, it was yesterday and it stays the same today.”

During pool play, any mention of Spain drew a polite but curt no comment from Coach K, who  dutifully reminded anyone willing to listen that a place in Madrid had to be earned. Ask about a potential opponent two games away and Coach K wouldn’t let the questioner finish. He’d reiterate that his and his team’s sole focus was on the team they’d face next.

Peppering the players with similar questions resulted in similar responses.

“We’re not focused on Spain or anyone else but … “

It doesn’t seem so strange now, not after seeing Spain crumble under the weight of expectations Wednesday night in Madrid.

In the moments after their quarterfinal win over Slovenia, after TNT’s Charles Barkley picked Spain to win it all and just before Phoenix Suns All-NBA point guard and Slovenian catalyst Goran Dragic did the same, Coach K made it clear that his team is not invincible.

“We’re beatable,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

That wasn’t posturing. Coach K knows as well as anyone — Pau Gasol and his Spanish National Team teammates included — just how humbling it can be to live that reality.

The failures of the U.S. team in 2006 is fresh in the minds of those involved with USA Basketball at all levels.

“We’re not an arrogant group that thinks we don’t have to come out and play our hardest and our best every night. That’s just not who we are as a team,” James Harden said. “We respect all of the other teams here. We’re not the only group of NBA guys here, we know that. This is a tournament, a competition, and that means it’s wide open and anybody has a chance to win.”

Having a young team, relatively speaking, that doesn’t include the usual complement of superstars that was expected (Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Paul George, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, etc.) won’t save the U.S. from expectations now that Spain is out. The Americans go back to the top of the heap as the unquestioned favorite to capture gold.

And that means this team must compartmentalize in short order the new dynamics. Serbia and France both sprung upsets on the other side of the bracket. Who’s to say that either one of them couldn’t do it again?

So those slow starts and energy-deficient stretches this U.S. team has struggled through cannot be a part of the process any longer.

“I think we’ve played well,” Coach K said, defending his team. “I don’t know what everybody has been watching, but you know, our guys have played their butts off. They have great camaraderie. You all, some of you, think that flipping the switch, or whatever, is when we start hitting shots. If any team just had to wait for that, then they are flipping that switch all the time, because you don’t hit shots all the time. What you can do is play hard, play defense and rebound. And you can do those things all the time, and our team has done that all the time. So, then when you start hitting shots, everything looks good when you hit shots.”

Krzyzewski said he’s pleased with his team’s growth and maturity throughout the course of training camp and competition. The U.S. has maintained a sense of calm on the floor when things don’t come quickly. “So far they’ve been great about it, and I think part of it is how we handle things,” he said. “Like the mood we try to create. You want to be serious, but not to an extent where you become tight. They need to be loose.”

That was easier to do before France turned this competition upside down with that 68-52 beating of Spain. The seriousness of it all, the fact that if you don’t play your best in this one-and-done scenario could be the difference between playing to capture back-to-back titles or playing for third place.

There’s no extra motivation needed then.

“To play to get to the gold medal game, that’s the main motivation,” Klay Thompson said. “And [Thursday] is September 11, an infamous day in American history, so we just want to honor our country in that aspect.”

France shocks Spain, giving Team USA clearer path to gold


VIDEO: FIBA: Day 2, Quarterfinals Wrap

MADRID – The dream of a Spain-USA final at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup is dead.

France ended it Wednesday with a stunning, 65-52 defeat of the Spain in the quarterfinals, playing a near perfect game to keep the hosts from even playing for a medal.

The USA’s chances to win its fourth straight international gold increased dramatically with Spain’s ouster. The Americans still have to get through Lithuania in the semifinals on Thursday and the winner of Serbia-France in the gold medal game on Sunday.

After a 2-3 performance in Group A, Serbia has played fantastically in the knockout rounds, beating 5-0 Greece and 5-1 Brazil by a total of 46 points to reach the semis. And if France continues to play the defense that it played on Wednesday, it can beat anybody.

But Spain was obviously the biggest threat to the USA’s winning streak, now at 43 games after Tuesday quarterfinal win over Slovenia. In fact, Spain looked like the World Cup favorites, with a full roster and a raucous home crowd behind them. Group A was the toughest pool in the tournament, as evidenced by its 4-0 record against Group B in the round of 16, and the hosts rolled through it, beating Brazil, France and Serbia by an average of 19.7 points.

On the other half of the bracket, Australia made a clear effort to avoid the U.S. until the semifinals and better its chance for a medal with who and how they played in their final pool-play contest. France had the opportunity to do the same with Spain, but played its final Group A game to win.

“We know, being third, we could cross with Spain in the quarterfinals,” France coach Vincent Collet said after his team’s win over Iran last week. “That’s basketball.”

Australia played to lose and then lost to Turkey in the round of 16. France played to win and pulled off the biggest upset that we’ve seen in a long time in international basketball. They simply outplayed Spain on both ends of the floor.

“For Spain, it was not that easy to play against us a second time,” Collet said afterward. “I think the big spread (24 points) of the first game was something important for us, because it was more motivation. We used it. We showed the players how bad we looked during the first game sometimes.”

The French players said they came in with a nothing-to-lose attitude and felt that all the pressure would be on Spain if the game was close down the stretch.

“It’s tough sometimes for a team to play at home,” Boris Diaw, who led France with 15 points, said. “I think we had the motivation to win and they had the motivation to not lose.”

But the pressure wouldn’t have been on the hosts’ shoulders down the stretch had France not played terrific defense. It started in transition, with France holding Spain to two measly fast break points.

In the half court, the Spanish guards mostly got nowhere on pick-and-rolls, as the French bigs hedged and then recovered quickly to their man. France’s rotations were sharp, keeping Spain from getting clean looks at the basket. As a result the hosts shot a brutal 2-for-22 from 3-point range.

Inside, the Spanish frontline of Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka was neutralized by Diaw and France’s pair of young centers, Joffrey Lauvergne and Rudy Gobert, who both played the games of their lives.

Pau Gasol scored a game-high 17 points, but didn’t dominate like he had in earlier games. His brother and Ibaka both shot 1-for-7.

Lauvergne played the Gasols strong in the post, forcing them into tough shots away from the basket, and grabbed 10 rebounds in less than 17 minutes of action. Gobert outrebounded the Gasol brothers, 13-12, himself.

Gobert, the 22-year-old who played in just 45 games as a rookie for the Utah Jazz last season, has had a limited role on this team, backing up the smaller Lauvergne at center. But at 7-1 with a 9-foot-7 standing reach and a lot of bounce, he has a world of potential. He played a tourney-high 23 minutes on Wednesday and was, for the first time, on the floor down the stretch of a close game.

“He has a real desire to do good,” Collet said. “I think the dunk early in the game tonight gave him special energy and, for sure, he did an incredible job.”

Gobert had a strong Summer League. But this was a much bigger stage. He started to realize some of that potential on Wednesday, taking on the challenge of defending Pau Gasol and holding his own. He came up with one incredible block of an Ibaka tip-in and later swatted Gasol at the rim.

“He was incredible on defense,” France point guard Antoine Diot added. “When he plays like this, with his head, he’s fantastic.”

“For myself, I always knew I could help the team win,” Gobert said. “All my teammates played great offensively and I just had to guard Pau, because Pau is one of the best players in the world. If you stop him, they’re not the same team.”

Indeed, Spain played awful, and not just on offense. While France’s defense was near perfect, Spain’s guards got beat back-door countless times, leading to layups, open shots and offensive rebounds for France.

“We weren’t well prepared for this game,” Juan Carlos Navarro said.

Spain had looked determined to win this tournament on its home soil and to avenge gold-medal-game defeats to the U.S. in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Both Gasols showed up in Granada for pool play in terrific shape, while Navarro looked sharper than he did for FC Barcelona last season. Spain was a juggernaut through its first six games, jumping out ahead early and bullying its opponents into submission.

But when it was forced to play from behind and feel the pressure of a nation of fans on its shoulders, the team crumbled under all that weight. After trailing by seven at the half, Spain forced turnovers on France’s first four possessions of the third quarter and took a one-point lead into the fourth. But France answered with a 7-0 run and put the building on high alert.

“We kind of knew if we stay close,” Nicolas Batum said,  “at the end of the game, they’re going to doubt, because they can’t lose that game.”

They did lose that game. There will be no USA-Spain final, because the hosts failed to do their part.

“It was a painful loss, disappointing,” Pau Gasol said. “This team had such high expectations. We had played an incredible tournament up to this point. It just wasn’t our night.”

Familiar matchups in Madrid quarters


VIDEO: FIBA: Round of 16, Day 2 Wrap

MADRID – The only teams possibly keeping Spain out of the gold medal game at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup are teams that Spain beat last week in Granada.

All four teams that advanced from Group A beat the four teams that advanced from Group B in the round of 16 on Saturday and Sunday. So the two Madrid quarterfinals on Wednesday will each be rematches of games that were played exactly a week earlier.

In the first game (12 p.m. ET), Serbia (3-3) and Brazil (5-1) will play a rematch of what was the wildest game in Granada, in which Brazil led by 16 at the half and Serbia led by seven in the fourth quarter, and Brazil won by eight.

All tournament long, Brazil has looked like the third best team in tournament. In fact, they ranked third in both offensive and defensive efficiency (behind USA and Spain in both categories) through the round of 16. Their three NBA bigs aren’t big scorers, but they’re the fulcrum of an offense that has recorded an effective field goal percentage of 66.7 percent over its last three games.

Serbia has had a below-average defense in this tournament, but played its best game on Sunday, holding previously unbeaten Greece to just 30 points in the second half and getting a break-out performance from Phoenix Suns draft pick Bogdan Bogdanovic.

Brazil has made it clear that it’s out for a medal, and a victory on Wednesday would put it in position to win one. But if there was a sleeping giant in group play, it was Serbia, which features both young talent like Bogdanovic and a group of veterans who have enjoyed a lot of success on this level. So there may not be a more interesting quarterfinal than this one.

“This team,” Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic said after his team’s win over Greece on Sunday, “can compete against anybody.”

France was able to compete with Spain for most of the first half last Wednesday. But a 12-2 Spanish run spanning the second and third quarters put the game out of reach.

France lacks Tony Parker, but won’t lack confidence when it faces Spain again in the quarterfinals (4 p.m. ET), having beat Spain in this event four years ago and in the Eurobasket semifinals last summer.

France has had a top-five defense in this tournament and may have a matchup it can exploit on the other end of the floor.

Spain starts 6-foot-4 Juan Carlos Navarro at the two, where he was guarding either 6-foot-8 Nicolas Batum or 6-foot-7 Mickael Gelabale. France didn’t do much to take advantage of that matchup in Granada, but Batum hinted this week that they may have been holding some things back in anticipation of a rematch in the knockout rounds.

“I don’t think we wanted to show what we can do,” Batum said Monday, “because we kind of knew we were going to meet them [again].”

But as much of an advantage that matchup might be for France, the European champs simply can’t match up with Spain’s frontline of Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. Joffrey Lauvergne has raised his stock in this tournament, but he’s still young, small (for a center), and inexperienced.

So France will have to play a near perfect game to have a shot of knocking out the tournament favorites.

“We need to [play defense] for 40 minutes and don’t turn the ball over,” Batum said, “because we’re going to be dead if we do that.”

Anything can happen in 40 minutes, and Spain still has two more games to play before it gets the matchup it wants, the U.S. for the gold in Madrid on Sunday.

Fournier lifts France into quarters

MADRID – Orlando Magic coach Jacque Vaughn was in Granada for the first three days of Group A games at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Vaughn was there to watch and support France’s Evan Fournier, whom the Magic acquired from the Denver Nuggets in June.

Vaughn almost went without seeing Fournier make a shot. As the fifth guard in France’s rotation, the 21-year-old didn’t see much playing time and missed his first seven shots of the tournament before hitting an open, 15-foot jumper late in the first half of France’s third game, an easy win over Egypt.

Fast forward a week and Fournier was playing a big role in France’s 69-64, round-of-16 victory over Croatia, lifting les Bleus into the quarterfinals, where they will likely meet tourney favorite Spain.

With France struggling offensively (to put it lightly) and down 15-7 after the first quarter, Fournier began the second period on the floor. He missed his first couple of shots, but scored seven of France’s 16 points in the period, helping les Bleus take a one-point lead at halftime.

At that point, Fournier jumped a couple of more spots in the French guard rotation, starting the second half. Midway through the third quarter, he pushed France’s lead from four to 10 with a personal 10-0 run, which included his second fast-break and-one of the game.

France’s defense did its part through the first three quarters, holding Croatia to just 19 points on 8-for-32 shooting over the second and third. Croatia found something in the fourth with Ante Tomic dominating the smaller French bigs in the post and Bojan Bogdanovic hitting some big shots on his way to a game-high 27 points. But their comeback fell short when Bogdanovic’s pull-up three did the same with 20 seconds left.

Fournier finished with 13 points and four rebounds, and was a game-high plus-16 in 19:29. Afterward, he looked back at that first bucket against Egypt as a key moment.

“It was a big moment for me,” Fournier said, “just to watch the ball get inside the rim, get my rhythm going, because I was missing easy shots, open shots.”

After those first seven misses, Fournier shot 11-for-19 in group play, and French coach Vincent Collet got him some more playing time in the team’s Granada finale against Iran. That move paid off Saturday when Collet’s team needed an offensive lift.

Collet said that Fournier has always had the potential to provide some punch to the offense, but needs to learn not to force things.

“Very often, that’s not a good way to be good,” Collet said. “So we talked with him since the beginning of the competition to explain that he has to be a little bit more patient. He has to let the game come to him.”

Fournier did that for the most part against Croatia. There was one moment, however, that drove Collet crazy. Croatia went to a zone midway through the third quarter, and on the first possession, Fournier launched a long 3-pointer early in the shot clock, a shot that could have been had at any point.

“He doesn’t know yet the basketball game,” Collet said, “not enough.”

Fournier has a few good teachers around him, Collet and Boris Diaw with the national team, and Vaughn in Orlando. He’s only 21 and has two more years on his rookie deal, a big reason the Magic got him for veteran Arron Afflalo, who can become a free agent next summer.

Right now, playing this tournament without Tony Parker, France needs whatever lift Fournier can give them. He’s certainly found a better rhythm since that ugly start in Granada.

“I just kept shooting the ball,” Fournier said, “and now I’m more comfortable, getting better and better. Hopefully, I can build from it and play a good quarterfinal.”

Brazil puts itself in good position with big win over Serbia


VIDEO: FIBA: Day Five Wrap

GRANADA, SPAIN – There will be no easy games on the A-B side of the 16-team bracket at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Outside of Spain and the United States, there are probably nine second-tier teams in this tournament, and six of those nine will be in Madrid starting Saturday.

Throw in Spain and there’s basically one opponent (fourth place in Group B) you might choose to face on that side of the bracket. And Spain will likely get that opponent. So there are bound to be three very good matchups in the round of 16. Good news for fans, bad news for a bunch of teams hoping for a medal.

Brazil (3-1) is one of those teams. And while it can’t avoid two other second-tier squads in the round of 16 and quarterfinals, it did the next best thing: likely avoiding Spain until the semis with what will probably be a second-place finish in Group A.

The Brazilians still have one game to play (vs. Egypt on Thursday), but look good for second after beating France on Saturday and picking up another huge win, 81-73, over Serbia (2-2) on Wednesday.

It was a game of wild swings. Brazil’s offense looked better than it had in a long time in the first half, scoring 48 points on just 33 possessions. A turnaround jumper by Leandro Barbosa gave Brazil a 16-point lead at the half.

As good as the Brazil offense was in the first 20 minutes, Serbia’s was better in the next 10. It turned that 16-point deficit into a four-point lead with an incredible 32-12 third quarter. Serbia then led by as many as seven early in the fourth.

But Brazil wasn’t done. Sparked by a couple of huge Marquinhos Vieira 3s, they went on a 12-0 run to go back up five. Serbia couldn’t get anything done offensively as Tiago Splitter drew two straight charges on Miroslav Raduljica, who also went 1-for-4 from the free-throw line down the stretch.

Former Hornet Vieira (known as Marcus Vinicius when he was in the NBA) hit one more big 3 and finished with a game-high 21 points, having shot 6-for-9 from beyond the arc.

Though they have Marcelo Huertas and Leandro Barbosa in the backcourt to go with three NBA bigs, Brazil can struggle offensively if they’re not hitting 3s. The 6-9 Vieira hit two on his team’s first three possessions of the game and the floodgates opened from there.

“We need him,” Huertas said afterward, “as much as we need Leandro’s speed or for our bigs to dominate in the post. For us, when the guy has a day like he had today, we know if we set a good screen or find him open in the corner, that ball is going in.

“The guy is tall. It’s very hard to contest a shooter like him.”

Brazil got here with a wildcard invitation, having gone 0-4 at last year’s FIBA Americas tournament. But they were an obvious pick, with the ability to put a much better team on the floor than they did in 2013 and having played well at the 2010 World Championship and 2012 Olympics.

Both of those years, they lost narrow decisions to Argentina in the first knockout round (round of 16 in ’10, quarterfinals in ’12). They’d love to avenge those losses this year, and they clearly have their eyes on a medal. Wednesday’s win was a big step toward that, because you can’t medal if you lose to Spain or USA before the semifinals.

“For us, it’s big,” Huertas said. “We want to go as far as we can in this competition. We really feel we have a team that can compete at the highest level.”

More notes from Brazil 81, Serbia 73…

  • After an ugly start to Monday’s game against Spain, Brazil coach Ruben Magnano changed his lineup, starting Anderson Varejao instead of Nene. The move worked, with Brazil jumping out to a 14-4 lead.
  • Suns draft pick Bogdan Bogdanovic hit a gutty, step-back 3 during Serbia’s big third-quarter run, but was rather quiet otherwise, scoring eight points on 2-for-7 shooting.
  • Barbosa is 31, but still has some game left. He’s averaged 11.5 points and has shot 6-for-13 from 3-point range through four games. Against Spain on Monday, he was the only Brazilian player who could get anything done offensively. Barbosa and Shaun Livingston should be an interesting back-up backcourt with the Warriors.
  • Unless it can beat Spain on Thursday, Serbia is looking at a fourth-place finish in Group A and a round-of-16 matchup with the winner of Thursday’s Argentina-Greece game on Sunday. Raduljica downplayed the significance of his team’s two losses to France and Brazil. “It didn’t affect us, because we don’t calculate are we going to win or lose. Of course, we want to win every game. It’s just how we go out on the court, do our best, and try to win.”

Other games of note…

Group A: Spain 88, France 64

Spain (4-0) passed test No. 2, which was slightly tougher than Monday’s game against Brazil. France (2-2) withstood a quick start from the hosts to come back and tie the game late in the first quarter. But a buzzer-beating three from Juan Carlos Navarro gave Spain the lead for good.

Despite a flurry of third-quarter turnovers and fouls by their opponent, Spain didn’t really open the game up until early in the fourth. Their second-half energy wasn’t as good as it was against Brazil or in the first half.

Pau Gasol (15 points, four rebounds, two blocks) didn’t dominate as much as he did against Brazil, but brother Marc (17 points, six rebounds, three steals) and Serge Ibaka (10 points, eight rebounds, two blocks) picked up the slack.

  • Spain has four NBA bigs on its roster, but only uses three in its regular rotation, with Victor Claver at the end of the bench. So Marc Gasol played the first 14:35 of the game. In fact, the whole Spanish starting lineup played the entire first quarter.
  • Nicolas Batum couldn’t really take advantage of a mismatch with the smaller Navarro. Batum scored 11 points on 5-for-15 shooting.
  • 2013 draft pick Joffrey Lauvergne got a good test, starting against the Gasol brothers. He mostly held his own, but Pau’s size, in particular, gave him trouble. He shot 3-for-9, struggling to finish in the paint.
  • Lauvergne said Wednesday that the Nuggets offered him a contract this summer, but it wasn’t enough for him to come over. He signed a more lucrative two-year deal with Khimki, with a buyout option next year. Denver still retains his rights.
  • Lauvergne is really too small to play the five, but that’s where France needs him with their veteran centers missing the World Cup. (Rudy Gobert backs him up.) If he’s going to play the four in the NBA, he’ll need to be able to shoot. He took a couple of threes on Wednesday and his form looked OK, but both were off the mark.
  • Evan Fournier wasn’t in the France rotation, but finally showed a little offense, scoring nine points on 4-for-7 shooting in garbage time.

Group B: Puerto Rico 77, Philippines 73

Another close game, another heartbreaker and elimination for the Philippines (0-4), who led by as many as 14 in the second quarter and by three, with the ball, with 2:30 left in the fourth. They committed a couple of bad turnovers in the final two minutes and J.J. Barea came up huge for Puerto Rico (1-3), who stayed alive with the win.

Barea pulled up for three to tie the game with 2:10 left. He then converted a tough drive with just under a minute to go to give the boricuas the lead. He finished with 30 points on 8-for-15 shooting, getting to the line 12 times and still asking for a foul call whenever he didn’t.

Andray Blatche had 25 points and 14 rebounds for the Philippines, which will have one more shot at a win against Senegal on Thursday.

More Day 5 notes

  • Mexico’s loss to Australia makes it even more likely that they will finish fourth in Group D and be USA’s opponent in the round of 16 on Saturday.
  • Slovenia (4-0) trailed by three early in the fourth quarter and didn’t play Goran Dragic at all in the final period, but managed to remain unbeaten with a 93-87 win over Angola.
  • Gorgui Dieng finally had an off night, shooting just 4-for-12 as Senegal got hammered by Argentina.
  • Donatas Motiejunas recovered well from not playing the entire second half against Australia on Tuesday. He had 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists in Lithuania’s win over Korea.
  • Greece remained unbeaten in Group B with a 76-65 win over Croatia. Incoming Rockets rookie Kostas Papanikolaou had his best game of the tournament, scoring 14 points on 7-for-10 shooting.

Big games on tap for Thursday

There’s still a lot to be determined on the final day of pool play.

  • Senegal can clinch a surprise trip to the knockout rounds, but needs to hold off the pesky Philippines team (8 a.m. ET).
  • The winner of Finland-New Zealand (9 a.m. ET) will have a chance to squeak in out of Group C with a decisive point differential.
  • Lithuania (3-1) and Slovenia (4-0) have both clinched spots in the knockout rounds, but their game (3:30 p.m. ET) will be for first place in Group D and a chance to avoid the U.S. until the semifinals.
  • Argentina (3-1) and Greece (4-0) are in the same exact situation on the other half of the bracket. The winner of their game (4 p.m. ET) will take first place in Group B and avoid Spain until the semis.
  • Spain gets its last test of group play against Serbia (4 p.m. ET, NBA TV).

Spain to get tested in next three games


VIDEO: Mike Fratello talks about the depth of international competition

GRANADA, SPAIN – As the U.S. National Team was getting a scare from Turkey in Bilbao, Spain was rolling to its second easy win, a 91-54 victory over Egypt, at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

After sitting out Saturday’s win over Iran with tightness in his right hamstring, Serge Ibaka came off the bench and looked fantastic, scoring 18 points and grabbing eight rebounds in just 18 minutes and thrilling the home crowd with three athletic dunks in the third quarter.

Spain is big, talented and deep, bringing two NBA starters – Ibaka and Jose Calderon – off its bench. The hosts have size, athleticism and shooting. And while the U.S. is missing several of its best players, Spain is at full strength.

That’s why they’re the World Cup co-favorites with the U.S, which has now won 38 straight games in international competition. The two teams that met in the gold medal games of the 2008 and 2012 Olympics are seemingly on a path to meet in the gold medal game in Madrid on Sept. 14. But there’s a lot of basketball to be played between now and then, and anything can happen once the World Cup reaches the 16-team, single-elimination tournament on Sept. 6.

Now it may be Spain’s time to get tested. After rolling through Iran and Egypt, the hosts will now see just how tough Group A really is. They’re set to face Brazil, France and Serbia in the next four days.

Along with Spain and the U.S., there are five other teams who have yet to lose. Brazil is one of them, having outlasted France on Saturday and blown past Iran after a slow start Sunday. They have a frontline – Nene, Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao – that can compete with any team, one of the best point guards in the tournament (Marcelo Huertas), and the craftiness of Leandro Barbosa. So Monday’s game (4 p.m. ET) will be one of the most important of group play.

France and Serbia, Spain’s opponents on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, played a fantastic game on Sunday, and are also dangerous. So we’ll likely have a better gauge of where Spain stands than where the U.S. stands before the knockout rounds begin.

Spain is also likely to face a tougher road to the final. Not only are the teams in their group on their half of the bracket, but so are Argentina and two of the other undefeated teams so far: Croatia and Greece.

“We want to win every game,” Pau Gasol said Sunday night. “We want to get better as we go along. We know it’s not win-or-go-home at this point, but I think the next three games are three good tests for us to improve and move on to the eighth-finals.”