Game Hero: Tony Parker was sublime all night and France kept believing even after a disastrous first half. He finished with a game-high 32 points and is now the second-leading scorer in the history of EuroBasket.
Stats Don't Lie: There was little to separate the two giants on Friday, but France managed to get a slight edge on the glass as they out-rebounded Spain 40 to 36 and also went 14-for-17 from the free throw line, keeping their calm even in the overtime clutch.
|Antoine Diot (right) had arguably his most significant performance in a French singlet, making big shots in the third quarter to turn the momentum in his team's favour|
France came back from 14 points down to finally defeat their nemesis, reigning European champions Spain, 75-72 after overtime in a semi-final clash for the ages in Ljubljana on Friday.
Not even the most optimistic French fan would predict that after the first twenty minutes of action, when France went 0-for-8 from the three-point line and Spain led 34-20, that this would be the day their nation would achieve the victory they had been chasing for so long.
France were quite successful in either denying the pass to Marc Gasol inside his zone of action or collapsing on him once he received the ball, but Spain still scored 12 of their 18 first-quarter points inside the paint, and the rest from the free-throw line.
Parker scored 12 of France's first 16 points and when he sat on the bench at the beginning of the second period, with the scores tied at 18, France suffered offensively, while Sergio Rodriguez was providing Spain with fluidity.
A Xavi Rey dunk 8:50 from the end of the second sparked a 13-0 Spanish run that Fernando San Emeterio capped off with a lay-up in transition 3:22 from the half-time buzzer, as the Iberian side could now run in the open floor with intent.
Parker drove to the basket and scored France's first points in almost seven minutes, to reduce to 31-20 with 2:31 left in the first half, but Sergio Llull split two free throws and sent Spain to the break with a 14-point lead.
"[In the locker-rooms] we looked at the score and we realised that we can win this game, the score was very low," France captain Boris Diaw said after the game.
"Our defence was not bad, we had held Spain, which is a great offensive team, to 34 points so we knew we had to be better offensively.
"Why we couldn't score? Because we were not aggressive enough, we let them push us around and we had to react, play hard and be tougher in the second half."
Antoine Diot hit a triple, France's first in the game in 10 attempts, to reduce to 35-26 with 6:49 left in the third quarter.
He drilled another 5:35 from the end of the period and Parker sunk two free throws to cut the gap to 37-31.
Fernandez hit a triple on the other end with 3:43 remaining in the third to give Spain some breathing space, 42-33, but back-to-back three-pointers from Gelabale and Parker brought France within three points, 44-41, with 2:24 left to the third buzzer.
Sergio Llull replied with a trey of his own from the left wing and restored a 49-43 Spanish advantage at the end of the third frame.
Gelabale again hit a jumper with 8:08 in the fourth quarter and France inched within 49-48, the smallest gap since Spain's second-quarter burst.
Fernandez with a dunk gave Spain a 60-53 cushion but Florent Pietrus hit his first triple in the tournament, Nicolas Batum also scored from beyond the arc and Parker with a lay-up 3:24 from the end of regulation tied the scores at 61.
Alexis Ajinca split two free throws to tie the scores at 65 with 40 seconds remaining to the end of regulation and Rodriguez misfired in a quick lay-up attempt.
Parker charged to the Spanish basket but Fernandez blocked his shot and first Calderon, from beyond the arc, and then Claver from under the basket missed the chance to win it for Spain in regulation.
"What we did in the second half, I am so proud of my teammates," Florent Pietrus said afterwards.
"Now it's our chance to finally lift the trophy."
Gasol scored the first two points in overtime but Parker and Diot combined for eight-of-eight from the foul line, as Spain went 2-for-10 from the floor in the extra period.
"I don't think it was a spell, they were just better than us. They beat us the past years because they were dominating European basketball," Diaw said.
"But I am proud of the team because we improved year after year, we used to lose by 20 against them, then by 10, then in the last seconds, and today finally we beat them."
Big man Johan Petro had a more straightforward explanation.
"Man, we wanted it, we just wanted it so bad, this game was in our minds for a long time," he said.