EuroBasket 2011 Finals Preview: Spain vs. France
*--Come join at Daily Dime Live as we chat about the Bronze & Gold Medal games starting at 10 AM EST. Both the Bronze medal game, (FYR) Macedonia vs. Russia, and the Gold medal game, France vs. Spain, can be viewed at ESPN3.com in the U.S.
EuroBasket Final: Spain vs. France
Spain returns to the EuroBasket final for the third straight time and looks to defend its '09 title. This is France's first appearance in the EuroBasket final since 1949 (lost to Egypt) and Les Bleus is looking for their first Euro title ever. Spain has been in four of the last five Euro finals. Easily could have been five in a row, but a Dirk last-second shot in the '05 semis denied a Pau-less Spain a trip to the finals.
Won't waste time rehashing the second-round matchup between these teams as France sat Parker and Noah. Would rather look at a game that mattered between these two teams when Pau Gasol played. Last time these two met in the EuroBasket knockout rounds, Spain overwhelmed a previously unbeaten France team in the 2009 quarterfinals, 86-66.
In that game, Spain's scrambling defense gave France major issues, forcing bad passes all over the court. Spain had little concern for France's perimeter-shooting ability. The Gasol bros. paid very little attention to the French bigs. Spain's perimeter players would pressure France, and even overplay sometimes, knowing that the ballhandlers would be met by bigs, who were basically zoning up the painted area.
This would often force the ballhandlers to kick the ball out where Spain had two-to-three perimeter guys (Rubio, Rudy, Navarro) ready to pounce on these passes like a cornerback.
Anywhere Tony Parker went with the ball, extra Spanish defenders followed. Parker rarely had easy access to the rim. Actually, anytime the ball went below the free-throw line, you had extra Spanish bodies flocking to the ball. This forced the French ball-handlers to pass the ball out under duress, often leading to turnovers (19 French TOs). Spain had 13 steals, six of which belonged to Rudy Fernandez.
Pau chewed up the French interior defense in the '09 quarterfinal, scoring 28 points on 11-of-13 and was a major factor in fouling out Ronny Turiaf and Ali Traore in rapid time. Of course, the big difference for France this time around is that they have the services of Joakim Noah. Noah hasn't been much to look at offensively--has had a rough time finishing off shots. But he does give France a better chance at guarding the interior this time around.
The dilemma for France is how they match up with the Gasol bros. If Noah guards Marc, that leaves Boris Diaw on Pau. Not good times. If you reverse assignments, then Marc can go to town on Diaw. And Ali Traore is not much help as he's not much of a defender.
Spain can punish a defense in so many ways. Pau's on target for his second consecutive EuroBasket MVP, averaging 20.4 ppg on 54%, 8 rpg, 1.6 bpg & 1 spg. Meanwhile, Juan Carlos Navarro has been lethal with 61 points in the last two knockout games. After starting the tourney slightly off on his 2PA, has raised his overall shooting pct. to 46.6% (45% on 3PA).
Marc has done a good job all tourney acting as a pressure release in the middle of the floor for Spain's offense. Marc worked well with Serge Ibaka in the semifinal, making a few sweet dimes off of rolls to a cutting Ibaka. Marc is another deadly post-up option next to Pau.
Serge Ibaka has been effective in limited minutes, cutting, blocking shots and boarding. Rudy Fernandez has not been quite as good as he has been over the last few summers (only 30% on 3PA), but his frenetic style on both ends has been a positive for Spain.
Also another problem for France's defense: how do you contain Juan Navarro? Juan has been in vintage "La Bomba" mode over the last few games, lighting up Macedonia for 35 and Slovenia for 26. When Navarro gets into his NBA JAM "ON FIRE" zone he's nearly unstoppable. Just have to expect the barrage.
He's so good at hitting off-balance shots or shots when he's not even squared up. So hard to account for him when he's coming off screens and catch-n-shooting because he can launch his shot immediately going over either shoulder.
France will likely give Nic Batum some reps on La Bomba, hoping his length can effect Juan Carlos. But not sure how well this will work as Batum could be run ragged through a constant stream of screens, which could zap his energy for offense. Think you need to rotate defenders on Juan, and use Mickael Gelabale as well.
France is coming off an impressive victory in which they made a normally stout Russian defense look very ordinary. After years being held back by a ragged half-court offense, France has been as good offensively as they've ever been.
Tony Parker has been one of the most dominant players in the field and if France somehow pulls off the upset, he will likely be awarded the MVP trophy. Parker has been shredding defenses and has been dangerous pulling up in the mid-range.
The ball-handler in France's pick-n-roll action (primarily Parker) has been effective scoring points all tournament, though France's roll game has been a non-factor. This might be good news for Spain as its pick-n-roll defense has been very good, especially curtailing the scoring of the ball-handler.
Looking at the way Spain guarded Bo McCalebb in the semis might give some insight into how they plan to play Parker, as McCalebb plays with a similar style as Parker. Spain made a concerted effort to go underneath Bo ball screens most of the time, which seemed to be the right strategy. Never really hedged hard with their bigs.
Nic Batum has been a valuable second option for France, averaging 14 ppg. NIc has shot the ball much better than he did over the last year--56% overall, 44% on 3PA--and has hit some big jumpers in the half-court and in transition over the last few games. Watch for down screens for Batum on the left side. France has gotten a lot of mileage curling Nic into the lane. Also, Batum loves to drive the baseline and Spain needs to shade him into the painted area.
Spain will also need to account for Nando De Colo when he gets into the game. Nando began Euro '11 averaging only 2.2 ppg through the first six games but then ignited to average 14 ppg on 55% shooting over the last four games. De Colo will handle the ball some and is a capable pull-up shooter. Actually, more reliable shooting off the dribble than with feet set.
Reserve center Ali Traore has been a key asset off the bench for France, especially over the last few games. Funny how Traore was originally cut from the training-camp roster then was asked back to the team after Turiaf was injured. Not really sure why he was cut in the first place, as he is one of France's better interior scorers. Likes to go with a lefty hook and can hit the foul-line jumper. Need to force him to go over his left shoulder, few countermoves going over his right shoulder.
France has been one of the more dangerous teams in transition in the tourney. But Spain is the one team that France might not want lure into an up-tempo game. Spain hurt France badly in '09 by pressuring the ball, getting steals and getting out in transition. Spain has multiple guys who like to get out on the break.
France is playing some of its best ball in years and seems to be confident in its abilities to hang with Spain. But Spain's firepower is superior and they can attack the opposition inside and out. Even with Noah, Spain should be able to hurt Les Bleus in the interior.
Just don't see a way France's defense can account for all of Spain's options, while France only has two consistent offensive options in Parker and Batum. I don't think Spain will crush France like they did with Serbia in the 2009 final, but I expect Spain to get its second Euro gold in a row with relative ease.