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.
|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.
Despite impressive performances thus far in EuroBasket 2005, both Lithuania and France are not satisfied yet.
France stunned the 2005 EuroBasket host country, defeating Serbia-Montenegro 74-71 in their elimination game Tuesday evening. The win allowed France to advance to the quarter-finals for the fourth consecutive EuroBasket and knocked-out the defending world champions.
France’s head coach Claude Bergeaud is not celebrating.
"We must remember we have not achieved anything yet. If we want to reach our objective and finish in the top six, we must win at least one of the next two games. If beating Serbia & Montenegro is a great achievement, it will be worth nothing if we don't qualify for the World Championships.”
Lithuania, the defending EuroBasket champions, advanced to the quarter-finals with almost an entirely new roster. Many expected Lithuania to have a difficult time coming out of Group B as the result of losing top star players and competing with the likes of Turkey and Croatia, two teams with several NBA players.
With a roster that doesn’t have any NBA players, Lithuania marched their way through the Preliminary Round following convincing victories over Turkey, Croatia and Bulgaria.
Lithuanian head coach Antanas Sireika is also downplaying the achievement.
“I am very happy we are in the quarter-finals,” he said. “But it’s not that much of an accomplishment because back home in Lithuania, people expect us to win whether we have star players or not.”
Lithuania have played in the quarter-finals round in four of the previous five EuroBaskets. The 2005 team features eight new faces from the 2003 squad.
“This is a good opportunity for some of our younger players,” said Lithuanian forward Robertas Javtokas, who is averaging 10 points a game.
France and Lithuania will play against each other in EuroBasket for the first time since their 2003 semi-finals match-up in Sweden, where the Lithuanians prevailed 74-70 with the help of a 9-0 run to end the game.
The semi-finals contest of two years ago featured a match-up of star point guards: France’s Tony Parker and Lithuania’s Saranus Jasikevicius. Parker scored 24 points, while Jasikevicius came close to a triple-double with 14 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
This time around, Lithuania will not be able to depend on Jasikevicius, who signed earlier this summer with the Indiana Pacers. The task of stopping the speedy Parker will fall to newcomer Vidas Ginevicius.
“I am definitely worried about how we are going to contain Parker,” said Sireika. “He proved he is back on the top of his game with his performance against Serbia-Montenegro.”
Parker, who earlier this summer won an NBA title with the San Antonio Spurs, scored 13 points in the elimination game against Serbia-Montenegro. Slowed by injuries, Parker struggled at the outset of EuroBasket 2005 and enters the quarter-finals averaging 6.8 points per game.
As a result of France’s victory, Lithuania went from going up against a boisterous host-nation crowd to most likely having more supporters than their opposition. A large contingent of Lithuanian fans were in attendance for the team’s preliminary games in Podgorica and more are expected for the quarter-final round.
Bergeaud knows France will have to put forth the same effort as it did against Serbia-Montenegro to defeat Lithuania.
"We must have the same desire and ambition to win,” he said.
In the Preliminary Round, France beat Bosnia-Herzegovina and lost to Greece and Slovenia in Group C play.
Boris Diaw leads France in scoring with 13.8 points per game, while Ramunas Siskauskas tops Lithuania with 16.7.