By Yarone Arbel
Turning point: In the 28th minute it was still a two point game in favor of France, but then Croatia's Marko Banic fouled out and Nikola Prkacin followed with a technical. France used that to reach an 11 point lead, and despite Croatia managing to come closer several times, the lead never changed hands again and France remained the dominant force.
Hero: Parker was the main man once again, but not only for the 24 points, six rebounds and six assists but the way he spread it. Half of his points were scored in the third quarter when his team turned a Croatian lead to a ten point game in their favor. In the last quarter he focused on anything but scoring and dished no less than five of his six assists in addition to three of his rebounds.
Stats: Croatia enjoyed a good shooting night with seven three-pointers on 54% shooting, but saw France better them with 12 long distance arrows. When a team like France shoot like that from distance, it's close to impossible to beat them.
After the second day of games in Group E in Bydgoszcz there's only one team perfect and that is France following an 87-79 victory over Croatia.
The French climbed to a 4-0 record, but still must beat Greece on the last day to secure the top spot.
Croatia dropped to an unexpected 1-3 record and must beat Germany on the closing day to avoid a shocking elimination.
|Nicolas Batum had 18 points to help keep France perfect.|
There were two different halves to this game.
In the first Croatia played their best basketball so far in the championship, and reached a nine point lead behind great shooting led by Marko Popovic.
The sequel showed a tougher French defense and a big performance by Tony Parker who took over the game, and led his team-mates to a rare performance of eight three pointers on 66.6% shooting.
"At half time we decided to change our gameplan," said winning Coach Vincent Collet.
"We didn't play well in the first half and the fact we were down by just five made us happy.
"We knew that if we step up on defense we can come back and that's what we did."
After Croatia was the dominating force in the first half, France wrote two runs to put them on top.
They used a technical foul on Nikola Prkacin, who fouled out as a result, to open the gap Croatia never managed to beat.
Parker led his team with 24 points, six assists and six rebounds but spread them in a perfect way.
Half of his points came in the third quarter, just when France took over the lead, while five assists and three rebounds joined the stat line in the closing quarter.
Nicholas Batum followed behind with 18 points, half of them from distance, five boards and two blocks.
Boris Diaw added 15 behind four long distance balls in addition to six assists and four rebounds.
Florent Pietrus added 14.
Croatia enjoyed 30 points by Popovic - the second best scoring performance in the competition so far - who spread his points almost equally between the first and the second halves.
He actually started his scoring drive only with the last basket of the first quarter and scored all of his points from either the charity stripe or beyond the arc.
Roko-Leni Ukic added 11 and Marko Banic had ten.
"The first 20 minutes was maybe our best (we played) in this tournament, but we need to play like that the whole game," said Coach Jasmin Repesa of Croatia.
Already in the first quarter France collected three triples.
Diaw started with an air-ball but added two hits from distance down the stretch of the first quarter, and Parker showed his skills with an off-dribble shot.
Croatia at the other end attacked the rim time and time both with the guards and inside players.
Ukic and Planinic drove to the rim while Banic and Prkacin posted up to bring their team to the last possession of the quarter down by a point, 19-18.
Popovic beat the buzzer to give his team the first points behind the arc but kept that momentum into the second quarter.
Kus and Popovic added two more three-pointers and a minute inside the second quarter it was already a 29-20 Croatian lead after an 11-1 run.
Balls were jumping on the rim and out for the French side, while Popovic remained hot reaching 16 points before the break, and his team up by seven, 46-39.
Diaw hit two from the line and saw Batum block a Planinic attempt to beat the clock, as the teams separated by five.
"We missed many free throws in the first half and if we had shot better we could have held a ten point lead at the break," referred Coach Repesa to the seven misses his team committed in the first 20 minutes.
"What mostly concerns me is that our mental strength was very, very bad.
"Once things didn't work for us we lost control of the game," he added.
Just inside the second half France was back on top after Pietrus and Parker led a 10-2 run.
Yannick Bokolo, who did a great job limiting Popovic for some minutes in the third, recorded a big block on Ukic which kept France on top, but the following play got Croatia in trouble.
Banic fouled out and Prkacin's protest sentenced him to the same destiny limiting Repesa's options on the bigs.
Parker hurt Croatia with a three-pointer, Pietrus added some of his own and another 12-1 French run wrote a 63-52 difference late in the third.
The French defense continued to make it tough for the Croats until Popovic woke up with five points in a row and forced a time out by Coach Collet up by only five, 70-65.
Mistakes on both ends of the floor allowed Croatia to enter the last four minutes down 73-69, but a three point by Bokolo and a fast break lay up by Batum pushed it to nine once more.
Croatia cut it down once more to four inside the last minute before Diaw sank the decisive three ball that told the story of the game.