Rudy Gobert was always going to be a force in this game but the sheer ease with which he dominated Poland was shocking to all watching as the Minnesota Timberwolves man barely broke a sweat in a controlled performance to reach the final of EuroBasket 2022. Emmet Ryan was in Berlin to watch the three time NBA defensive player of the year show who the man was.
There was no shortage of nerves to start the game as France gave up a couple of offensive fouls and a sloppy out of bounds turnover in their first few possessions but Poland, unlike their win over Slovenia, weren’t taking advantage of their opponent’s inefficient start. Instead the Poles looked awfully shaky offensively in the early going and only had an early Mateusz Ponitka bucket to show for their efforts in the first 5 minutes.
Guerschon Yabusele has never been afraid of throwing up a three but he was clearly on a special assignment in this one to deploy the deep one and force Poland into rethinking their defensive approach, which largely involved refusing to hedge anyone when Evan Fournier was on the ball. When they finally went pure one on one with him, pushing cover onto Yabusele in the corner, the New York Knicks man easily drove past AJ Slaughter to score.
Les Bleus moved into a double digit lead early in the second quarter as the Polish speed and flair that had torn Slovenia apart in the prior game was wholly absent. Igor Milicic had opted to not go with both Ponitka and Slaughter at the same time which seemed an obvious error as their combination would surely have accelerated his side and made France need to adjust far more defensively.
Rudy Gobert, who’d enjoyed plenty of rest through that run for France, reintroduced himself with a wholly undefended dunk. That really was the difference between Friday and Wednesday’s opponents for Poland. Slovenia had arguably slightly more star power but France had been far better at pacing the usage of its best players so Poland couldn’t exploit their conditioning.
Finally, Milicic went to the Ponitka-Slaughter combination after their vile start and hit consecutive buckets for the first time in the game after almost 14 minutes of play. Gobert however showed just why he’s not a soft touch one on one as Slaughter had a floater smacked away hard with Rudy looking like Slaughter had insulted the quality of his cooking. That seemed to fire up the French.
— #EuroBasket 2022 (@EuroBasket) September 16, 2022
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Save for that moment, there was nothing spectacular from France. Just businesslike D and scoring where they could with Vincent Collet happily giving his top players oodles of rest so he could tire out an opponent which had previously been noted for its heavy rotations throughout the knockout phase.
Gobert was pretty much the final boss for Poland they just didn’t know it. Despite his early turnovers offensively, he was making Poland unwatchable at the other end. The calm manner with which he either swatted away attempts or closed off avenues meant he was suddenly walking to the front of the tournament MVP conversation having looked like he hadn’t broken a sweat. At the half, with Gobert in full control, France led a dreadful game of basketball comfortably 34-18.BallinEurope has a book, a real life actual book called I Like it Loud, and you can buy it on Amazon now. It’s here as a book and here in Kindle form.
A quick turnover by Poland to start the third and Fournier immediately scored from deep. This was the dullest dismantling of the tournament so far but an ideal game for France. They were getting their players to try all sorts of looks and get good but not exhausting minutes before their inevitable trip to Sunday’s final. With 10 minutes to play, France had a 28 point lead and I was wishing that they hadn’t provided blankets and pillows for the media seats.
In a tournament where the biggest stars fell after being run into the ground too hard or their coaching staff relied too much on them, Rudy Gobert had made the final on well managed minutes and surrounded by the most versatile roster in the competition. Considering how often he was overlooked by the wider NBA community during his time with the Utah Jazz, it’s apt that he’s effectively one game from winning MVP when even the European media wasn’t expecting him to claim it before the tournament started.