An offensive explosion out of nowhere from Juancho Hernangomez fuelled Spain’s run to a fourth EuroBasket title but, Emmet Ryan writes, we should be used to Sergio Scariolo finding the right man, at the right moment.
Spain has never won a EuroBasket title without Sergio Scariolo on the sideline. They had come close before but the man from Brescia has been the only one to ever bring them the crown of kings of Europe. Entering the 2022 competition, we all wrote them off. This was, after all, the weakest roster Spain had ever brought to the competition. No matter. Against Lithuania it was Lorenzo Brown, against Germany it was Alberto Diaz, and on this night it was Juancho Hernangomez. The strategic master always knew which of his assets to turn to throughout this tournament and that’s why they claimed a fourth title.
Spain kept their starters in for a long opening stint in this game, not making their first substitution until almost 8 minutes in, but it looked like Sergio Scariolo simply didn’t want to mess with a winning formula too soon. Aided by 3 steals by Jaime Fernandez, Spain casually strolled into an early 18-7 lead.
Just to ensure things weren’t going to get any easier for France, the man that Scariolo opted to bring in first was Alberto Diaz who had a dominant defensive outing in the semi-final win over Germany.
It looked awfully easy for Scariolo’s side out there. Early in the second, Juancho Hernangomez scored from deep as France tried switching to a double-big line-up with both Moustapha Fall and Vincent Poirier pairing up to try and limit what Spain were doing offensively.
The key to Spain’s success so far was patience. They were comfortable going 17 or 18 seconds deep into the shot clock before deciding what they were going to do. Juancho hit another three after patient build-up and Spain were up 29-14. Out of the timeout and it was the same again as “Bo Cruz” was casually beating up Les Bleus. Then came his fourth from five attempts, already comfortable his best outing from deep in his EuroBasket career having never previously hit more than two in a game.
Then came numbers five and six and the lead was an unthinkable 21 points in the first half. Spain’s fans, not exactly noted for bringing the noise, were cheering Juancho Juancho loudly as the stunned silence of the French fans left them wondering what on earth was happening.
Scariolo opted to sit Juancho late in the half and France went on a 11-0 run to make this a far more manageable 47-37 deficit at the break.BallinEurope is ramping up its YouTube game this season. Subscribe to our channel now for player exclusives, analysis videos, and much more.
La Marseillaise was faintly ringing out from the French fans behind press row to start the third quarter. They had cause to raise their voices when Guerschon Yabusele cut the deficit to just 5 with a three point play to get things up and running again followed by a mid-range jumper. Thomas Heurtel got in on the act before Yabusele again scored to bring it back to just a single possession between the teams.
Notably, out of the timeout, Scariolo brought Juancho back in with 6.52 left in the third. This time he showed his inside shooting either side of a pair of Jaime Fernandez scores. After looking like they had cause for panic, Spain once again didn’t and the lead was comfortable again. Fernandez proved to be the lynchpin for Scariol in this spell as he was able to find all kinds of free spots to set up for a shot while he was a menace defensively, recording 3 steals in the third alone.
Les Bleus went into bulldoze mode through Poirier to respond, sending him right at Usman Garuba repeatedly. The end result meant France had made some headway in the third but only the minimum as they still trailed 66-57 with 10 minutes to play.
Gobert came back in after a long break with 9 minutes to go. Vincent Collet went double-big again, pairing him with Poirier. That was fine for Juancho as his made his 7th three of the night. Then he went to the paint, for the first time all night, and scored. Just for good measure, he added a steal on the next possession. He wasn’t remotely in the running for tournament MVP but there was no doubt who the most valuable man on the court was in this final.
With 4 minutes to go it looked like Spain had already won it. Gobert wasn’t getting anything done on either end and every defensive adjustment France tried was soon countered effectively. A three from Diaz pushed the lead to 12 and it felt like it was time to start etching Spain’s name on the trophy, again.
Here was Scariolo’s masterpiece. In Brown, he believed found a player he wanted that could make a difference when needed and he was right. In Diaz, he had a bulldog whose value would likely not have been recognised by another but he had his moment. In Juancho? A man with 5 different NBA teams in the last 13 months and in need of a confidence boot, he found the key to the final. Gold for Scariolo, his crowning achievement, greater than the World Cup he won in 2019 or all three of his previous EuroBasket crowns. This was the tournament where, truly, the real MVP was the man on the sideline.