By Kevin Anselmo
Two nights after knocking out the host nation, France dethroned the defending champions with a 63-47 win over Lithuania to reach the semi-finals of EuroBasket 2005 and qualify for the FIBA World Championship in 2006.
France reached the last four of this tournament for the second time in a row with a dominant defensive performance, particularly in the first half when they held the Lithuanians to a mere 16 points.
Antanas Sireika´s men had entered the game on a roll by coming out of a highly competitive Group B with an undefeated 3-0 record, all the triumphs by double-digits.
Thursday night was a horror show for Lithuania, though.
They were 27 points off their first half scoring average from their previous three games (43). For the contest, the Baltic giants were two of 20 from three-point range, and shot a woeful 33% overall from the floor.
|Parker was back to his best against Lithuania|
Boris Diaw, who has emerged as one of the stars of this EuroBasket, finished with a game-high 18 points, 11 rebounds and three assists as a more athletic French team reigned supreme.
Both teams started sloppy, were tentative and missed often. Lithuania were just three of 12 from the field in the opening quarter and committed seven turnovers, while France were four of 11 with five turnovers. The jitters became more evident when France´s Frederic Weis failed to draw iron on a free throw attempt.
It got no better for Lithuania in the second quarter as they shot five of 15 from the floor. The Lithuanians did not attempt a free throw in the first half and misfired on all nine of their three-point attempts. They were outrebounded 26-15 in the first half and 47-35 for the game.
Tony Parker, who did not start for the second consecutive game, had a major impact when he entered the clash with three minutes remaining in the first quarter because with the San Antonio Spurs point guard pulling the strings, France went on a 15-2 run to open up a 16-point second quarter lead.
Although he connected on just one field goal, Parker truly seemed to get France´s offence in gear and he also dished out four first-half assists.
Lithuania came out with a better offensive effort to start the second half and the two teams went back and forth for much of the third quarter. Lithuania cut France´s lead to eight with just under a minute to go in the third after consecutive baskets by Darjus Lavrinovic.
Trailing 44-36 with 10 minutes to go, they were unable to solve the French.
Diaw connected on a short jumper and Parker hit a tear-drop runner and then a three-pointer in the course of a 7-0 run, breaking Lithuania´s momentum and giving France a 15-point lead. France extended to their biggest lead of 17 and essentially put the game out of reach following a three-pointer by Antoine Rigaudeau with 4:58 remaining in the game.
Parker finished the game with 11 points and five assists, while Weis, a late addition to the French squad in the build-up to this event, collected 11 rebounds.
France avenged their semi-final loss to Lithuania in the 2003 EuroBasket and are now two wins away from claiming their first EuroBasket gold medal in the country´s history. Their best previous finish was a silver medal back in 1949.
Crucially for France, the pressure is also off regarding the FIBA World Championship. With six teams gaining berths from Europe, they are assured of a place as semi-finalists here in Belgrade.
Lithuania, playing with an almost completely new squad from its 2003, will now be playing for fifth place and that, too, would be good enough to reach Japan. Ksistof Lavrinovic led the Lithuanians with 11 points.
France will match up against Greece in the semi-final on Saturday, while Lithuania plays Russia.