France defeated Russia 79-71 in a closely contested game. Russia hung around just enough to give themselves an opportunity, but France was too much for them. Russia tried all kinds of things, zone defenses, a little bit of traps and presses, but France withstood all of the runs. How'd France do that?
Nicolas Batum was a big catalyst for France. He played great defense, hit semi-transition triples and used his athleticism all over the floor. Usually Joakhim Noah sets the defensive tone for France, but today it was Batum. He used his versatility to block shots, guard tall and short players and then make acrobatic plays on offense. A big intangible of Batum is being able to make strong moves on both ends without picking up a ton of fouls. He played all but six minutes of the game and only picked up three fouls. For someone with his activity level, that's a tremendous number.
Tony Parker had a tough overall game statistically, but he showed up late. He made his late three shots, two of them being key to putting Russia out. It's funny how it seems like Parker can generally struggle to make jumpers off the dribble throughout most of the game, then he seemed as if he had something to prove and he nailed them. He played well when it was necessary.
Ali Traore also played a solid game. Considering he played only 10 minutes, his eight points are great. Traore is great because he'll set up in the post early in the shot clock and execute his move quickly. With whatever minutes he gets, France should look for him early, because his offense is typically early offense. Traore is an x-factor kinda player (along with De Colo).
So where did Russia slip up? They played crisply only at times, when they needed a near perfect performance. The ball would move, an opening would be found and they'd score. That wasn't the problem. The problem was when the movement stopped, the turnovers compiled and the French got out in transition, or semi-transition. At times it felt like Russia was determined to comeback, but when they finally equalized, or almost tied the game, they played loosely afterward.
Andrei Kirilenko played amazingly. With him you throw away the stats, unless you look at, "Percentage He Played With Heart (or PPH)," in which case he'd be at 100%. Russia's coach, David Blatt said it best, "He’s best when he’s running around the court and he’s free. Most of his best plays come from instinct." Kirilenko just puts it all out there and knows what is needed to win. Truly, there's nothing else serious I can say about him, except reemphasizing what was said previously. I'm a BIG Kirilenko fan!
The Russian group as a whole is fantastic. Coach Blatt has great schemes and the more Russia gets guys that can execute his game-plan, the scarier they'll become. They just need to stick to the plan of moving the ball, and looking for the openings. I know it sounds like I'm speaking about basketball in general, but really, that's what worked the best for Russia. The less the ball touches the floor, the better the Russian offensive attack was. If that was fiercely adhered to, their defense would also have more time to set up and stop any French transition. The room for improvement for Russian is definitely open, but luckily they've got the right people to make sure it happens. I wish them the best in the future.
France now moves on to play Spain in the final on Sunday and they've also qualified for the 2012 Olympics in London. Who else is excited for this final?!
Photo and Stats from Eurobasket