After 46 years, the French basketball team can finally return home from a EuroBasket with some hardware.
Tony Parker was magnificent with 25 points and five assists, Mickael Pietrus added 23 and France crushed Spain 98-63 to win bronze at the 2005 EuroBasket and bring home the country´s first medal in the competition since 1959.
France won their sixth EuroBasket medal overall, five of which are bronze, and broke a streak of 22 medal-less appearances.
“This is a great step for French basketball,” said Parker. “People will now stop saying we can´t win anything.”
|Florent Pietrus |
Les Bleus dominated the third quarter to take control of the game and Spain self-destructed to put the game out of reach. Up eight to start the second half, France opened the third on an 11-4 run to take a 55-40 lead and open up their biggest lead of the game at 15. Parker sparked the spurt by scoring seven points with a three-pointer to go along with two driving lay-ups.
Spain started to unravel and show their frustration midway through the third when Jose Calderon was whistled for a technical foul for kicking the advertising board surrounding the court after not getting a foul call. Florent Pietrus hit the technical free throws and France went up 59-43.
A little more than a minute later and in between a Mickael Pietrus three-pointer, Juan Carlos Navarro was called for a technical foul for complaining to the officials. Florent Pietrus hit one of two free technical free throws and Parker´s driving lay-up put the French in total command with a 65-43 lead with 3:12 remaining in the third.
The Pietrus brothers put an exclamation point on the third with two dunks in the final minute of the quarter and France led 75-54 going into the fourth.
“After halftime, my team was physcally down, ” said Spanish head coach Mario Pesquera. “We couldn´t stop them anymore – they were just too athletic.”
For the quarter, France outscored Spain 31-18.
France continued to pour it on the fourth and the crowd applauded as France´s starters began coming out of the game with under two minutes to go.
Frederic Fauthoux, who had logged just five minutes entering play today, hit a three with three seconds to go and received high-fives and hugs from his team-mates, who moments later celebrated their medal achievement.
“We have to continue this pace to the next World Championship,” said Gelabale. “We digested what happened earlier in the tournament and played our best game tonight.”
Despite suffering heart-breaking one-point losses the night before, both teams opened up the first quarter shooting 50% and Spain´s Fran Vazquez´s hit a three as time expired in the quarter to tie the game at 21.
France outscored Spain 14-4 though the first six minutes of the second quarter and took a 44-36 advantage into the halftime locker room. The quarter concluded on a alley oop from Antoine Rigadeau to Gelabale.
Known in EuroBasket for defensive low-scoring basketball, France played a more up-tempo game, resulting in four fast-break electrifying dunks on the other end. The French also dominated down-low with a 46-16 points in the paint edge.
Their 44 points in the first half matched their highest total for EuroBasket 2005 and their 98 for the game was also a team best.
Mickael Gelabale and Florent Pietrus each contributed 13 for the victors.
Navarro, who entered today´s play as the leading scorer in EuroBasket with 26 a game, was held to 17. Jorge Garbajosa finished with 12 and Carlos Jimenez had 10.
Spain failed to medal in EuroBasket for the first time since 1997 after having claimed the silver in 1999 and 2003 and the bronze in 2001.
Although France came up short in their quest for gold following a disappointing loss to Greece last night, Parker takes many positives from EuroBasket 2005 in comparision to the team´s fourth place finish in 2003.
“We made a mistake two years ago when we lost the semi-finals to Lithuania and we didn't come ready for bronze medal game against Italy,” said Parker. “This time we didn´t.”
France and Spain will today try to forget last night's demoralising semi-finals losses when they take to the court for the bronze medal game.
Both teams suffered heartbreaking one-point defeats to eventual finalists Greece and Germany respectively.
|Jorge Garbajosa and Spain will be looking for a 4th consecutive EuroBasket medal today|
France have not appeared in a gold medal game since 1949.
French captain Antoine Rigaudeau tried to run the ball up the court in the closing seconds and create a scoring opportunity but was called for a traveling violation at half-court.
After the game, the teary-eyed captain was inconsolable and placed the blame fully on himself for missing two of four free-throws in the last 14 seconds of the game.
"It's not normal for me to be missing from the free-throw line. I have no excuses. I apologise to my team-mates, to the coaching staff and to the fans. This loss is my own fault," he said.
Rigaudeau couldn't even talk about the bronze medal game - one he may sit out as he is said to have picked up an injury during the semi-final.
However, his team-mate Boris Diaw was more optimistic about the way France had played and emphasized there was still something to play for.
"We're all disappointed naturally. We played well for 39 minutes and faltered the last. And because of all the time-outs, those last 60 seconds seemed like an eternity," said France's leading scorer this tournament.
"But the competition is not over yet. There is a bronze medal to play for, and we need to play our best to take it home."
Spain suffered an equally disheartening one-point defeat to the hands of Germany, 74-73, as Dallas Mavericks superstar Dirk Nowitzki hit a baseline jumper with three seconds left to play that gave Dirk Bauermann's the lead and final score.
The loss was very hard to swallow for Mario Pasquera's men as they came back from a seven-point deficit, 72-65, with a minute and 44 seconds left to play, to take the lead on a Juan Carlos Navarro floater with 14 seconds to go in the game.
The leading scorer in the tournament had Spain's last nine points, including all eight of the 8-0 run that got Spain from being seven down, 72-65, to being one up, 73-72, with 14 seconds left in the game.
Pesquera's men were let down by their three-point shooting, converting only two of 19 attempts on the night, while Germany shot a reasonable 13 of 33 from beyond the arc.
Spain will be disappointed not to be able to go one better than in Sweden two years ago, when they took the silver medal after losing to Lithuania.
But Spanish captain Carlos Jimenez warned his team-mates and he could not afford to dwell on the semi-final loss.
"We need to forget this defeat as quickly as possible and concentrate on the bronze medal game. We don't want to go home empty handed," said Jimenez.
"It will not be an easy game, but we are determined to go home with a medal," he added.
For the fans, this game should prove highly entertaining, high scoring and fast paced as the tournament's most athletic team - France - takes on the highest scoring one - Spain.