CSP Limoges secured a return to Euroleague by taking the Pro A title in France. Emmet Ryan is feeling awfully nostalgic about the former kings of European hoops returning to the top level.
What were you doing in 1993? I was 12 so not a whole lot but it was a different time. This was pre-Euroleague, back then the top level competition in Europe was the FIBA European League and it looked rather different to the competition we know today. All but three teams (Partizan, Badalona, and Treviso) had to play through qualifying rounds before progressing to the regular season. Limoges began their journey to the European title in the second qualifying round, where they disposed of England’s Guildford Kings 143-129 on aggregate. And right away we’ve found a team Limoges beat that doesn’t exist anymore, the Kings went bust in 1994 and professional hoops didn’t return to Guildford until the Heat were formed in 2005. Amongst the notable teams that joined Limoges in the regular season were Bayer Leverkusen (currently in Germany’s second tier), and RC Mechelen (went bust in 1995).
The regular season back then consisted of two groups with 7 in Group A and 8 in Group B. Limoges went 7-5, good enough for second behind PAOK. Those interested in a touch of history will be interested to know that Panathinaikos didn’t make it to the top flight that season. The quarter finals saw PAOK beat Pau-Orthez, Limoges take down Olympiacos, Real Madrid beat Bologna, and Treviso beat Pesaro all in best-of-three game affairs.
The SEF was home to the Final Four that season with Limoges knocking off Real Madrid 62-52 and Treviso beat PAOK 79-77. This set up a final between a French team and an Italian team. Just let that sink in for a moment. These were different times. Limoges took the title with a 59-55 win in the final, ending the European season in mid-April.
It took overtime, it took Tony time, but France finally got the best of Spain. Now they move on to the final of EuroBasket 2013.
Drama does not mean quality. There were extended periods of fantastic basketball when France played Spain on Friday night. There were equally lengthy spell where the play was horrid. Overtime certainly fit the latter but it followed a fourth quarter of breathtaking ball. After quietly riding to the top of the scoring charts in this tournament, Tony Parker finally made his presence felt when his country needed it most.
In 37 minutes of play Parker exorcised the demons that plagued French basketball, due largely to the Spanish golden generation. Most of them were there and delivering. Marc Gasol had 19 points and 9 boards but he also gave the ball up 6 times. Rudy Fernandez landed alley-oops at the business end of the game, en route to 17 points. Jose Calderon was there in body but he left his shot in the locker room.
Parker however would have to carry most of the load on his own. Nicolas Batum was awful. Alexis Ajinca made some bonehead plays. Boris Diaw and Florent Pietrus gave support inside but for France to win, and avenge 2011 and 2012, it would take something memorable from Parker. In the fourth quarter, it was Tony time. The San Antonio Spur brought France level and then in front. It wasn’t just a momentary spark. The most gifted French baller who ever lived scored 32 and collected 6 rebounds. Like Gasol he had turnover problems but not enough to take him off the floor.
Then came OT. An utter mess of poor offence. Spain struck first, France moved ahead, and then the errors came. It looked like we’d have Sergio Rodriguez and Parker squaring off for five minutes of drama but hero-ball is badly over-rated. The victory would come down to who made the fewest mistakes. Victor Claver’s air ball was one too many for Spain.
So for the third time in their history, France advance to the final of EuroBasket. In 1949 they lost to Egypt in Cairo. Two years ago it was Spain. This time around they face Lithuania. Third time lucky won’t be easy. On paper this isn’t a contest but Lithuania’s depth and organisation means they a far from a straight forward opponent. On the inside they can hurt France. From the outside they have a bunch of options with chips on their shoulders. Parker will be ready. He needs his team mates to be too.
Just in time for today’s semi finals to prove us completely wrong, here’s our updated Power Rankings for EuroBasket 2013 after the quarter final round.
1. Spain. It’s a what have you done for me lately business and nobody has done more than Spain. They leap Croatia on the back of an utter rout of Serbia.
2. Croatia. A second quarter spurt against Ukraine gave the Croats a decisive lead that they never gave up. This team has now won 8 straight.
3. Lithuania. Total coin toss between Lithuania and France following the quarter finals, the Lithuanians greater consistency in round two means they stay ahead for now.
It’s a rivalry that’s been bubbling for years. Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum, and Boris Diaw lead France against Spain’s Marc Gasol, Jose Calderon, and the bearded might of Sergio Rodriguez. Only one will advance to the final of EuroBasket 2013.
Whatever we thought of Spain before the quarter finals was quickly swept aside on Wednesday. They didn’t beat Serbia; they ignored their very presence on the court. Spain played like their roster looked on paper. Deep in the back court, weapons everywhere, and with one of the most imposing presences in the world at center. The Serbs were sent packing in an utterly humiliating 90-60 defeat. France for their part stayed largely to type in the quarter final. The talent was there to see, they picked up the win, but they left the court with questions still abounding. One stood out above all others. Why do they look so beatable?
The stats certainly don’t paint the French as an easy side to conquer. They lead the tournament offensively and have a variety of options, with Parker, Batman, and Alexis Ajinca all proving tough match-ups. Parker leads EuroBasket in scoring but can disappear for minutes at a time. This is unlikely to be an issue today, not against a team France has lost twice to in major tournaments over the past two years. Normally I shun the eyeball test but it’s near impossible to ignore when France play. For all the things they do right, they always look like they need to find another gear.
The most consistent element of this match-up promises to be decisive. Even when their scoring has been off, Spain have been consistent on defence. If any team can corral France, it’s the Spaniards. Scoring will be high but Spain have enough to take the win. Spain to advance.
World Cup spot
Italy and Ukraine clash in Friday’s first game with a place in the 2014 FIBA World Cup at stake. This is a huge game for both sides as neither will want to see Serbia in the match-up for the final spot. Win today and you are on the plane to Spain. Ukraine fought gamely against Croatia and won’t suffer much inside against the Italians. The options for Italy on offence look to be key here. Gigi Datome and Marco Belinelli have been the engines for Italy throughout this tournament and the duo should have enough to pull through. Italy to win.
The home side exited EuroBasket 2013 after a quarter final that took a while to come to life.
This game started ugly but Slovenia clearly came out the better of the first quarter. Going in 14-10 up at the end of the final frame, there was reason for the home crowd to be hopeful. Neutrals however well already being overcome with a sense of dread. The offence in the first half was terrible. Slovenia shot 11of 33. France went 11 of 34. It gets worse when you dig inside the numbers. The Slovenians were happy to go deep. Unfortunately their accuracy was vile. Going just 1 of 14 from beyond the arc early, the underdogs weren’t getting the big shots they needed to plant the seeds of an upset. The home side’s futility however was balanced by France’s own failure, going a meagre 9 of 28 on 2s. France went in 26-24 up at the break.
Any kind of a run had the potential to blow this game open. It was France who found it. Pushing 36-26 ahead, Les Bleus developed a cushion and from there the pressure was on Slovenia. Had this been a game where either offence was in passable form, the chances of the hosts countering with a run of their own would have been good. The crowd in Ljubiana however knew their men weren’t on tonight. Goran Dragic was trying to be a do everything player for his side, creating and scoring in a spirited performance, but as Slovenia’s effort to cut the deficit kept hitting a wall he looked like he was trying to do too much.
With 3 minutes to go it was a two-possession game, Slovenia had a shot to make the French nervous. Another offensive set failed and France punished them. Trailing 67-60 with time running out a Bostjan Nachbar three was off. Tony Parker hit a lay-up on the next possession. Slovenia’s next run up the court fell short too and now it was time to foul but the French had time on their side. It was anything but a polished performance but France had done enough. After a first half where offence went to die, France came out hard from the locker room and left the home side in their wake.
Slovenia won’t win a medal here but they will need to make home court advantage count to secure their place in the FIBA World Cup next year. France’s place in Spain is now locked up. Their next opponents will be a Spanish side that ran riot against Serbia.
Arguably the two best matched quarter finals of EuroBasket 2013 talk place on Wednesday. Serbia take on Spain in a re-match of the 2009 final while hosts Slovenia take on France.
Serbia vs Spain – 17.30 CET
The young and improving Serbs take on the winners of the last two EuroBaskets. The key match-ups here will come with the guards. Spain has a deep rotation to work with, Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon, Sergio Rodriguez, and Sergio Llull may all prefer playing the 1 but they have the versatility to make for solid pairings. Serbia’s big question is over the health of their guards. Nemanja Nedovic and Stefan Markovic are each nursing injuries, which will put pressure on Bogdan Bogdanovic to deliver big. On the inside Nenad Krstic is going to go to war with Marc Gasol. There’s no question the Spaniard holds the edge here but Krstic has the ability to at least make a fight of it. My big concern here has been Spain’s inconsistency. Countering that however is their defence which remains stout. The bookies say Spain -6.5, I’m going to go a bit closer than that but still a two-possession game at the death. Spain to advance.
Slovenia vs France – 21.00 CET
First things first. Do you feel basketball?
Good stuff. The hosts have benefited greatly from some big time performances from Goran Dragic. With 15.4 points and 4.4 assists per game, the Phoenix Sun has impressed throughout the tournament. Slovenia opted to rest him for much of their game against Finland, with a view to this match-up. On paper it’s hard to see anything but a French win. They have talent, they have depth, and in Alexis Ajinca they have a non-star who is a joy to watch. Believing in this French team is another matter entirely. The eyeball test is dangerous but I’ve watched a lot of France in this tournament and they just look like a team hoping to get everything together by the knockout stages. For all their talent, they are far from refined. Slovenia’s depth can certainly be questioned but in terms of sheer organisation, they look a step ahead of the French. Throw in a partisan home crowd and you’ve got the recipe for an upset. Time to be fearless. Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, Nicolas Batum, y’all are great but I think you’re going to the classification games. Slovenia to win.
Who do you think comes out on top today? Tell us in the comments.
Where once there was 12 now stand 8. The quarter finals are set so it’s time to update our Power Rankings.
There are some radical changes but I still expect plenty of you will be upset. Take aim in the comments.
1. Croatia (4-1). It was really tough to decide between first and second here. Three straight wins in the second round, including that unreal 2OT win over Greece on Monday, were just enough for them to get top slot.
2. Serbia (4-1). So that ranking of 9 was harsh. Serbia still clearly have a lot of work to do but their win over France was particularly impressive.
3. Slovenia (3-2). The home team is really getting the crowd involved in their games. Their win over Italy exposed some of the latter’s failings. Following that up with a heart-stopper over Greece was enough to take third here. We’re not counting what was clearly a nothing game against Finland against them.
The last game in stage two has yet to start but the four quarter final pairings for EuroBasket 2013 are set. Here’ are the pairings.
Serbia vs Spain
Lithuania vs Italy
Croatia vs Ukraine
Slovenia vs France
The first two games on Monday set the slate in stone. Greece lost any hope at making the quarter finals with their double overtime 92-88 loss to Croatia. Italy and Spain were left to decide the order of the top two quarter finals, with the loser getting Group E winner Serbia. Marc Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies led the game in stats with 32 points and 10 rebounds but Alessandro Gentile made up for his lacklustre display against Croatia with 25 points and 7 boards. New San Antonio Spur Marco Belinelli had another good outing for Italy, with 16 points and 8 rebounds before fouling out while Marco Cusin, who also fouled out, put up 4 points and 11 boards. It took overtime to decide it but Italy took the win 86-81. Now all they have to do is repeat that success on the inside to lock up a place in the FIBA World Cup next year. Against a Lithuanian team that can bang hard, that’s no easy ask.
We’ll have previews up for the quarter finals later this week but bear in mind that the placement games in this tournament also matter. With Spain already having their place in the World Cup secure, all but one of the other quarter finalists will be making the trip next year. Tell us who you think misses out in the comments.
Latvia’s defeat at the hands of Belgium meant the rest of Sunday’s action was all about seeding for the EuroBasket 2013 quarter finals.
By the time Lithuania and Ukraine took to the court in Llubjana, both sides knew they were safely through to the quarter finals. Unsurprisingly much of this game had a feel of two teams going through the motions. There are bigger prizes ahead, not least potential spots in next year’s FIBA World Cup. Lithuania’s Jonas Valanciunas had his quietest game of the second phase but his former Toronto Raptors team mate Linas Kleiza came up big with 15 points and 5 boards in 23 minutes of play. Pooh Jeter was once again the main creative force for Ukraine, with 8 assists, but inconsistency from the field cost the underdogs. A 70-63 win means Lithuania finish the stage with a 4-1 record, Ukraine take the last quarter final spot with a 2-3 finish.
That game could have had a really different tone were it not for the heart of the Belgian Lions. Belgium, already eliminated from the reckoning for the quarter finals, finally got rewarded for their hard work with a win over Latvia. It was an awful day from beyond the arc for Latvia, going 5/29. With three-pointers crucial to their game, Latvia found themselves in a big hole late but put on a great surge to cut the deficit to the minimum. The Belgians held their nerve however and came through to win 60-56. The tournament has to go down as a success for a Belgium team which has been on the fringes of European basketball for three decades. The Lions roared on Sunday and ended Latvia’s involvement in the process.
The quiet spell recently endured by Nemanja Nedovic and whether he’d break out of it was the biggest question entering Serbia’s game with France. The Golden State Warrior had been hot through the early part of the tournament but had cooled off in the second phase. Nedmania came back with a vengeance against France. Nedovic had a huge game with 17 points and 3 rebounds, and he was arguably only the third best Serb on the floor. Nenad Krstic had his way inside for most of the evening and finished with 19 points, 4 boards, and 4 assists. Bogdan Bogdanovic was also on top form as he delivered 14 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists. The stats don’t tell the full story of just how good Serbia looked. France, for all their talent, didn’t look capable of competing with Serbia for most of the game. They rallied a few times to reel in the Serbs but even with impressive displays by Nicolas Batum and Alexis Ajinca on offence, their inability to curb the young guns for Serbia was a concern. Ajinca has really impressed for France in this tournament and the more I see of him, the more I want to see. Still, this was certainly an evening for Serbia to celebrate. They win 77-65 and look well placed to challenge in the knockout stages.
Where did that come from? Ukraine pulled off the shock of the second round so far while France and Lithuania rolled to easy victories in Group E.
Ukraine took a one point lead into half-time against Serbia but with issues on the boards, the upset looked far from assured. Then along came a 14-2 run to give the underdogs a lead they would never surrender. Any fears that Pooh Jeter was in a hole after being shut down by Latvia were put to rest in a commanding performance, with 20 points and 4 assists. Serbia did a lot of things right but their free throw shooting was ugly, going 12 of 24, which took away from their success at picking up offensive rebounds. It took something remarkable for Ukraine to pull out this 82-75 win but by doing so they still have a shot at making the quarter finals.
The same can’t be said for Belgium who ran into Jonas Valanciunas in a bad mood. Hurting him in the first quarter turned out to be a terrible idea as the Toronto Raptor took over on the inside to leave Lithuania well in front at half time. Mindaugas Kuzminskas also contributed well from the bench as Lithuania’s size proved too much for the Belgians. While a rout through three quarters, the Belgians salvaged some pride with a spirited final frame. The result was never in doubt but a 32-17 run in the final frame meant the score was respectable. Lithuania’s 86-67 win should be enough for them to make the next stage but anything could happen on Sunday.
Finally a big hi to Nicolas Batum. After disappearing against Lithuania the Portland Trail Blazer made his presence felt early and often in France’s rout of Latvia. The first half was all about France’s inside play as they pounded it, kept pounding it, and pounding some more. With just 4 of their 34 shots coming from beyond the arc, there was no mistaking France’s intent from the off. Latvia needed to match their ridiculous success from long-range that they had against Ukraine. That was always going to be a tall order but they rallied well in the second half to keep the game close. Eventually Batum’s 19 point 10 rebound and 6 assist performance coupled with a big night for Alexis Ajinca, 25 points 5 boards 3 blocks, was enough to get France over the line. This game also marked the first century of the tournament as France were forced to keep pushing hard on offence in the second half. A 102-91 win moves France to 3-1 with a game to go. Latvia know a win over Belgium should still be enough to make the quarter finals.