French NBA player Tony Parker led France's basketball team into the European Championship final on Friday after inspiring their defeat of defending champions Spain 75-72 in overtime. Parker hailed "the biggest victory in [France's] history".
“This is a huge victory for French basketball, maybe the best in its history” Parker told reporters after the game. “But it’s still not a gold medal and we need to stay focused,” he added.
Spain led by 14 points at halftime but the tide turned after the break when Parker’s 3-pointer with just 2 minutes left to play gave France its first lead of the game, 64-63.
“When I was in the locker room at halftime, I felt like we were scared,” said Parker.
“We wanted to be aggressive but until halftime we weren’t really playing, it was a nightmare”, France coach Vincent Collet said after the match. “We talked about it during the break and we came back very different.”
With the score level at 65-65, Parker, who has won three NBA titles with the San Antonio Spurs, had a chance to win the game in regulation but his drive to the basket was blocked by Rudy Fernandez with 11 seconds left. Spain's 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 desperate 3-pointer at the buzzer after Rodriguez had squandered an earlier chance to tie the game.
“We had the last shots in both regulation and overtime but we missed,” Spain coach Juan Orenga said.
Learning from past defeats
Diot was the only other French player in double figures with 10 points, while Gasol led Spain with 19 points and nine rebounds. 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.
Parker said his team has learnt from past defeats against Spain. “If we’re here today it’s because they pushed us to be a better basketball team, to be strong during games like these,” he said.
Spain beat France to win the title two years ago, but this time it was missing key players Pau Gasol and Juan Carlos Navarro.
“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 one assist, along with six rebounds.
The French will meet Lithuania on Sunday after the Baltic nation defeated Croatia 77-62 on the back of 63 points from three back-court players earlier in the day. Spain will now play Croatia for the bronze before Sunday’s final.
“Two years ago we were so happy to qualify for the Olympics that we botched the final. Now, we have to control our joy, and stay concentrated for the final,” Parker said.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2013-09-21