This week, I had the opportunity to follow the two French teams’ Euroleague games. On Wednesday, I was in Nancy for the game against Panathinaikos and today I followed the game between Maccabi and Le Mans via Euroleague TV. Both times, the French team lost.
I went to Nancy in a very neutral fashion, neither supporting Panathinaikos nor the French champion. I expected a blowout win, as SLUC had really disappointed me so far in the top European competition. So it was not a surprise to see the game going on like it did. Panathinaikos did no more than necessary and Nancy was fighting like crazy in order to stay in the game.
But what the three referees did to the French was simply incredible. OK, I admit that Nancy is a Euroleague rookie and Panathinaikos is a powerhouse. But every, really every close decision went in Panathinaikos’ favor. What in the beginning looked like two or three decisions that could have gone either way, became more and more obvious during the game. In the paint, where Nancy is really “light,” every bit of contact was called and so the SLUC post players were in serious foul trouble.
It went so far that even youngster Roger Zaki had to come to the court. And no surprise here, either: Three fouls in four minutes. But of these three fouls, two were rookie calls. The first was after playing proper defense and trying to front Mike Batiste; the Greek center got the pass on a high-low post play but was falling backwards taking Zaki with him to the floor. Foul on Zaki. On the game’s last possession, Panathinaikos has the ball and misses their shot but on the rebound situation, Kostas Tsartsaris falls down from out of nowhere on the FT line, foul on Zaki, 2 free throws.
I’m not saying that Nancy lost the game because of the referees, Panathinaikos was clearly the better team and Diamantidis and Jasikevicius knocked down the decisive shots in the final moments. But I have barely ever seen more pro-big team refereeing in my whole life. Every time Nancy wanted to come back, a call stopped their run.
If you don’t have the financial power, you don’t have the real big guys and you even don’t have referees calling the basketball game in a neutral way: It’s very tough to win a game.
Another game and a different story. Le Mans returned to Tel Aviv and it must have felt like déjà vu for them. In their season opener from last year, they lost in Tel Aviv by three points in a very close game at the end. This time it was even worse. After having led nearly the whole game, Le Mans again came into a close setup in the decisive moments. Being up by three points with nine seconds on the clock, it should have been possible to take the game home. But Maccabi scores a wide open three-point shot after an inbound play right after a timeout. How is this possible?
You have two choices in such a situation: You foul on the first pass in order to avoid the three-point shot or you play defense like crazy without giving an open shot. Of course, Maccabi won the game in overtime afterwards. I really don’t understand what Le Mans was thinking at that moment. We don’t know what coach J.D. Jackson told his players to do, but I would guess this was not the option he preferred.
Aside from being very close, both games showed once again why French teams will never win big games or advance to decisive phases in the Euroleague anymore. Le Mans needed three years in order to get a certain lobby with the referees but they still cant manage to win the close games (Unicaja, Cibona and now Maccabi). And the second French team is always a Euroleague rookie (Roanne last season, Nancy this year) and doesn’t get any calls.
So is the only possibility to win these games glorious French teams such as Elan Béarnais Pau-Orthez or CSP Limoges did to return to the top European competition? Well, Pau is currently last in the French ProA with 0 wins and CSP Limoges is struggling somewhere in the 2nd division. So we won’t see these two former powerhouses anywhere soon representing French club basketball. What a pity…