France to play Lithuania in Eurobasket final
LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — France ended Spain’s reign as European basketball champion Friday with a 75-72 overtime victory behind 32 points from Tony Parker to set up a final against Lithuania.
Two-time defending champion Spain led by 14 points at halftime but Parker led France’s comeback after the break, and his 3-pointer with 2 minutes left gave France its first lead of the second half, 64-63.
“We wanted to be aggressive but until halftime we weren’t really playing, it was a nightmare” France coach Vincent Collet said. “We talked about it during the break and we came back very different. They couldn’t score for five minutes in the third and even when they started hitting shots again our spirit stayed the same.”
With the score level 65-65, Parker had a chance to win the game in regulation but his drive to the basket was blocked by Rudy Fernandez with 11 seconds left. Jose Calderon then missed a 3-point attempt at the other end.
In overtime, Parker and Antoine Diot scored France’s last 8 points from the free-throw line to keep their team in front and Marc Gasol missed a desperation 3 at the buzzer after Rodriguez had missed a previous attempt to tie it.
“We had the last shots in both regulation and overtime but we missed,” Spain coach Juan Orenga said.
Diot was the only other French player in double figures with 10 points, while Gasol led Spain with 19 points and nine rebounds and Fernandez scored 17. Point guard Ricky Rubio was largely ineffective, with 2 points, one assist and four turnovers.
“We put a lot of intensity in the game and it allowed us to come back in the second half,” Diot said.
Spain beat France to win the title two years ago, but this time it was missing Pau Gasol and Juan Carlos Navarro. Spain will now play Croatia for the bronze before Sunday’s final.
“It’s very disappointing to lose a game we led for 37 minutes. We played great defense in the first half but in the second we let them play their rhythm,” said Rodriguez, who finished with 11 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds.
Parker finished with five turnovers and only one assist, along with six rebounds.
“We were scared at halftime. Now, we have to control our joy. Two years ago we were so happy for having qualified for the Olympics that we botched the final,” Parker said.
Lithuania earlier reached its first final since winning the title 10 years ago by beating Croatia 77-62 and is looking for its fourth championship.
Jonas Maciulis led Lithuania with 23 points, Linas Kleiza added 22 and Mantas Kalnietis had 18 as the three of them combined to outscore Croatia. Lithuania center Jonas Valanciunas provided some big defensive plays with five blocks, while Bojan Bogdanovic led Croatia with 15 points.
“It was a difficult game mentally because we knew how important it was,” Maciulis said. “Both teams came out shot-shy and we were the first to take the lead.”
Lithuania went on an 18-3 run to start the third quarter that decided the game. Maciulis scored two consecutive 3-pointers and made a jump shot during that run, while Kalnietis added seven points. Lithuania also used a big third quarter to beat Italy in Thursday’s quarterfinal.
“They came out in the second half and took a great advantage, we could not catch up,” Croatia forward Damjan Rudez said.
Lithuania won the European title in 2003 and was bronze medalist at the 2010 worlds but has not made the podium in Europe since taking bronze in 2007 and lost in the quarterfinals at home two years ago.
“It was an important win for our generation, to show that we can play well and win a medal. We are trying to prove to people who thought we were not a good team that we can win,” Maciulis said.
Croatia coach Jasmin Repesa said Lithuania “played much better” than his team.
“They are bigger, faster, more athletic,” Repesa said.