After being carried into the final by Tony Parker on Friday night, the rest of the French team stood tall as a second quarter run sparked their charge to the title.
Were it not for the golden generation of Spanish talent, this likely wouldn’t be Tony Parker’s first EuroBasket title. Were it not for Boris Diaw, Nicolas Batum, and Alexis Ajinca, he likely would have suffered a second defeat at the final hurdle.
Parker was a one man army against Spain in the semi final but that was never going to suffice against Lithuania. The breadth of options at Lithuania’s disposal meant there was no way a solo show would suffice. After so-so or worse games against Spain, the rest of the French line up showed up when it mattered most.
It certainly didn’t start easy. Linas Kleiza came out looking to replicate his awe inspiring performance against Croatia. The former Toronto Raptor set the tone for the Lithuania offence early and behind Kleiza’s efforts they deservedly held a 22-19 lead at the end of the first quarter.
It was the second frame however where France came to play and Batman was hungry on offence. The Portland Trail Blazer had a stinker in the semi final and was eager to make amends. Batum lit a fire with 17 first half points and Les Bleus poured on the fuel. A 19 point swing in the quarter and France let 50-34 at the half. What had looked like a close match-up was at risk of becoming a blowout.
Lithuania however are prone to scoring in bunches and no reasonable observer could have written them off completely. This time it was Boris Diaw’s time to turn the screw. With 11 third quarter points, Diaw pushed France further in front. Kleiza, who had been so inspirational before the break, was held scoreless in the frame. France were 68-50 ahead and 10 minutes from their first ever EuroBasket title.
The wait has been long. France first made the final in 1949, losing to Egypt. It would take Parker’s generation to get them back there but they fell short against Spain two years ago. Nothing was going to prevent them succeeding at the third time of asking.
Lithuania had to wait until the fourth quarter for their first offensive rebound. Ajinca led a dominant interior game by the French defence. While he made a couple of boneheaded moves in the final frame, they couldn’t detract from an impressive display on the glass over the course of the final.
As for Parker? After all those titles with San Antonio what does this mean? For American readers it may come as a shock to know that after seven trips to EuroBasket, this is every kind of relief to France’s favourite son. Having been quiet on offence for most of the night, he came out hard in the final frame. It was enough to ensure he hit double figures in every game of the tournament. That opening night defeat to Germany is nothing but an afterthought now. France have beaten the hosts, the defending champions, and the might of Lithuania in their last three games. Let the champagne flow. It’s been on ice long enough.