Tony Parker took care of business when his team mates couldn’t and France saw off Latvia to set up a date with Spain in the semi finals, writes Emmet Ryan
It was far from vintage France against Latvia in the second quarter final on Tuesday night. There were stutters and stumbles from the home side throughout the first half before Tony Parker got angry.
France didn’t have it all their own way in the early going. Latvia’s offence was singing in tune and they were making hay with ease while the hosts lookd a little rusty after an easier than expected win over Turkey. There are worse ways to take a crowd out of a game than to open 5 of 6 from the field. For France, it wasn’t horrible but the nerves were obvious, an attempt by Nicolas Batum to link up with Nando De Colo saw the players toss it back and forth indecisively under the bucket before Latvia recovered the ball and burst clear again. With 1.42 left in the frame, France were down 6 and Vincent Collet had to calm his men down. It didn’t do much good as Boris Diaw needlessly lost control out of bounds while in the paint. Latvia couldn’t have looked more relaxed. All the pressure was on France, nobody expected Latvia to offer any resistance. Instead, after 10 minutes, the team nobody gave a shot led 25-21.
In my piece on Sunday I mentioned how a Latvian journalist had gone around asking French people if they knew where Latvia was. When they said no he told them “Latvia is in the semi finals.” It was still a pipe dream at this stage of the game but France weren’t exactly intimidating their Baltic opponents. Having made 11 of their first 14 shots, these guys were playing at an aberrantly high level but they were giving France enough to think about to allow for a drop off.
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France weren;t exactly rocking to start the second. They finally took their first lead of the game via Mickael Gelabale with 7.50 left in the half. That was enough to start the Allez Le Bleus chant. It was however followed up by two straight shot clock violations and a three conventional turnovers by the hosts. Someone had clearly forgotten to tell France that Latvia wouldn’t just roll over and let them score. Collet called his men in again, this time down 5. Latvia were strutting while France were struggling. Then, late in the second. Tony Time. Parker went to the well, and again, and then from deep. France were up by 2. Throughout this tournament Parker has looked like his lost a step but when France were at their worst in this one, he came up big. Parker scored again out of the Latvian time out. 9 French points in a row for Parker as they took a 40-38 lead into the locker. That was all France needed to rouse them. A one-handed pass by Parker set Rudy Gobert up for an alley-oop dunk and France got off to a 12-2 start.
That was the end of this one as a contest but all the questions that haunted France from the group stages remained. By the start of the fourth quarter the fans were on their feet roaring Allez Les Bleus but this was not a team playing like it was going to control the clash with Spain. If France are serious about winning this competition on home soil, they need to be smarter. They have the talent, they should have the psychological edge, but they didn’t play tonight like a team that know what it needs to do to win.
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