It took a fourth quarter rally but France eventually took bronze at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup on the back of a big night for Nicolas Batum.
France had a horribly short turnaround before this one, hitting the floor just 18 hours after losing to Serbia in Friday’s semi-final, but Joffrey Lauvergne showed no signs of fatigue in the early going. The French big quickly racked up his side’s first 7 points. The first quarter was an entertaining affair as Lithuania kept pace through the opening 10 minutes. Nicola Batum, fresh off a monster night against Serbia, took a few minutes to get going but still finished the first with 8 points, finishing the frame with a three to put France 22-19 up.
The track meet shape to the game continued through the early part of the second as did Batum’s offensive threat as he glided to the hoop with ease. Jonas Valanciunas was re-introduced for Lithuania to counter Batum and Lauvergne’s increasing influence on proceedings. The Toronto Raptor went to work inside and ensured Lithuania kept toe-to-toe with France. France, hardly lacking in bigs, struggled to deal with his aggressive streak inside and Valanciunas repeatedly got to the line. At the half France held the lead 43-42.
The third started off with both sides gunning but the tone was just a little bit off. Shots were falling but there was an air in the arena that both sides, while wanting the win, wanted the tournament to be over. The fatigue of two weeks of competition coupled with their recent exits from the battle for gold was showing in both sides. For two sides playing a pretty open game, there were a lot of heavy legs out there. It looked like Lithuania were that touch fresher, aided no doubt by the extra day’s rest, and threes from Martynas Pocius and Paulius Jankunas pushed them into an 8 point lead. Valanciunas remained a force inside as Lithuania tried to open up some breathing room. With 10 minutes to play, Lithuania led 71-64.
Third place playoffs are strange beasts across sports but even in basketball we can see them vary. At the bottom you’ve got the Euroleague bronze medal game, where neither side wants to be there and poor old FC Barcelona have played for three straight seasons. At the top, it’s the Olympics. Then you have third place games like EuroBasket where there is often more than the medal at stake such as Olympic qualification. It’s hard to say where on that chain this falls. Neither side wanted to be here but Lithuania were surely the happier. From the off they knew that bronze was likely their best possibly achievement with the USA on their side of the draw. France naturally had higher goals, having taken down Spain before Friday’s stunning loss to Serbia.
France rallied at the start of the fourth to quickly turn this into a one-possession game. Batum was rolling and Lauvergne was back making an impact to tie things up at 75-75. With nothing else working, Lithuania went back to Valanciunas for some offensive fire. Lauvergne managed to catch him cold with a block after a Boris Diaw bucket but the Raptor roared back with a dunk and an 8-footer with the bonus to put Lithuania back in front. The French however kept coming and Diaw delicately made the reverse lay-up to give them an 82-80 lead with 1.27 to go. Lithuania looked to Valanciunas again but this time he couldn’t deliver. Another Diaw score proved decisive and Lithuania had to start fouling. Despite some nervy moments at the line, France did enough and took the bronze.