By David Hein
Turning point: France picked up their defensive pressure with eight minutes left in the game, holding Latvia to seven points the rest of the way.
Hero: Tony Parker. The NBA guard once again took over in the second half for France on a time when no other starter scored in double figures. Parker scored France's final 10 points one day after scoring France's final 11 points against Germany.
Stats: 15. The other four French starters scored a combined 15 points.
Tony Parker once again took over the proceedings and carried France to a 60-51 victory over Latvia, scoring 21 of his 23 points after intermission in helping France overcome a 10-point third quarter deficit and book their spot in the Qualifying Round of EuroBasket 2009.
The other French starters combined for 15 points while Ali Traore came off the bench for 12 points for Vincent Collet's team, which held Latvia to just 33 percent shooting for the game and survived
scoring just three points in the second quarter.
|Tony Parker had a big second half for France, scoring 21 of his 23 points.|
"For sure if we were alive after the first half it was only because of our defense. We were defending very well, we couldn't do better. In the second quarter we couldn't buy a basket. And this would have killed us if we gave up on defense. But fortunately we stayed focused on our defensive aspects," said Collet.
The game turned when Boris Diaw and Nando de Colo both knocked down back-to-back three-pointers in an 18-4 France run to close the third quarter
"Finally we started to make some open shots and the game changed when Boris hit two in a row and Nando hit two in a row. And after that Tony Parker showed why he's Tony Parker," said the coach.
Latvia dropped to 0-2 in Group B despite 18 points and seven rebounds from Kaspers Kambala and six points and 20 rebounds by Andris Biedrins. And Kristaps Janicenoks chipped in 12 points in a losing effort.
"I don't know. They just started to make a lot of three-point shots. We were more concentrated on not letting them shoot layups and close shots at the basket. So we were allowing them to take long shots. But they made some really big shots. That's how they came back," said Biedrins, who has scored just 12 points in the first two games.
Biedrins said the fourth quarter was just too much Tony Parker, who scored France's final 10 points one day after totaling France's final 11 points against Germany.
"Of course Tony is an All-Star player. And down the stretch is his time. He'll do everything to get his team a win. He was great."
Both teams started the game struggling on offense, with the French defense its usual self and the Latvians being spurred on by some 3,000 Latvian fans.
Kristaps Valters's basket gave Latvia an 8-5 lead with 3:15 to play but Kestutis Kemzura's men failed to score the rest of the quarter. And Traore, who entered the game when Ronny Turiaf picked up his second foul, scored France's final nine points of the quarter for a 13-8 French lead.
There was more of the same defense in the second quarter, in which neither side scored in the first four minutes.
Latvia finally were able to find the basket with Armands Skele and Kambala combining for 12 of Latvia's 13 points.
France however never found a rhythm and made just 1 of 16 shots and scored just three points in the quarter as Latvia led 21-16 at intermission.
Latvia took control of the game early in the third quarter with Janicenoks converting a lay-up and knocking down two three-pointers in three consecutive possessions while Biedrins' dunk gave Latvia a 33-23 lead.
France however turned up the defensive intensity and let Parker take over on offense as the Spurs star scored six points while helping set up the Diaw and de Colo three-pointers, the second de Colo triple completing an 18-4 run as France led 41-37 after three periods.
Janis Blums's three-pointer and two foul shots had Latvia ahead 44-43 with eight minutes left. But de Colo drained another three-ball and Parker scored two baskets to start his 10-point run in France's 11-2 fourth quarter spurt to make it 54-46.