France continues medal streak, gets bronze in World Cup

Photo courtesy of www.fiba.com
Photo courtesy of www.fiba.com

Less than 20 hours after an exhausting 85-90 loss to Serbia in the semi-final France came out to face a Lithuania team with a days more rest in a replay of last year’s Eurobasket final to contest for the Bronze medal.

It was Lithuania who came out looking sluggish as Khimki’s Joffrey Lauvergne scored France’s opening 7 points to go along with 5 rebounds to give France an early 7-2 leadd, before a three point play in transition from Paulius Jankunas and a layup from Jonas Maciulis drew the game level again with 4 minutes remaining. As the teams traded baskets towards the end of the quarter France almost pushed out into a lead at 11-15 after Antoine Diot scored 54 consecutive points for Les Bleus. Lithuania pulled back to tie the game at 19, only for Nicolas Batum, fresh form 35 points the previous evening against Serbia to hit a three from a Rudy Gobert assist to give France a 22-19 lead.

The high pace continued into the second half, with neither team playing helpside defence very adeptly there were a number of consecutive open layups and jump shots before Batum once again had his number called to push France 32-27 lead after a swooping, scooping layup past Mindaugus Kuzminskas. Lithuania had another run in them though, as Marty Pocius knocked down a three, and Jonas Valanciunas sank a running hook from the right block to tie the game at 34.The quarter ended scrappily, as France struggled to contain Jonas Valanciunas and fouled him a number of times, as well as conceding a number of offensive rebounds. Despite this their offence stayed steady, as Batum, Fournier and Diaw all scored to keep pace just ahead of the Lithuanians and led to a 43-42 French lead at the half.

Where Lithuania struggled from the three point line in the first half they started to hit shots from the outside which led to an early 6 point lead in the third quarter. When Rudy Gobert went to the bench with foul trouble and Joffrey Lauvergne sitting with injury France were forced to go small, with Boris Diaw and Florent Pietrus matching up against Jonas Valanciunas and Paulius Jankunas. This made a big difference rebounding, where Lithuania already held a strong advantage and along with their improved three point shooting pushed the Lithuanians out to an 8 point lead. Despite the return of Lauvergne, Lithuania kept hold of their lead to close the quarter, albeit a seven point lead at 71-64.

Facing a tough comeback the French came out strong, and Nicolas Batum’s fast break layup cut the Lithuanian lead to just 3 after just over 2 minutes of the fourth, following a careless turnover from Darjus Lavrinovic. France’s momentum continued after the timeout and they ultimately tied the game up at 75 on a Joffrey Lauvergne layup.With France picking up their defence, Jonas Valanciunas answered, first getting an easy dunk in transition before putting Lithuania back in the lead with a three point play to make the score 80-77. France once again had an answer however, first Thomas Heurtel kissed a high floater of the glass to put the game within one, before Florent Pietrus split a pair of free throws to tie the game. Then from the rebound of Pietrus’ miss Boris Diaw impossibly spun a layup high off the glass to drop and give France a 82-80 lead with 1:30 left. Diaw was once again mystical following this, first contending Valanciunas at the rim to force a miss before taking the ball on the perimeter, gliding to the rim stepping around the Lithuanian defence to deftly finish off the backboard and to give France a 4 point lead.

With it looking like the French could just trade free throws to close out the game, Thomas Heurtel went to the line and came up empty twice, Adas Juskevicius came down the other end and made a layup and the extra free throw to put Lithuania behind by just one. With Heurtel going to the line again, the first shot nervously rolled around the rim, and dropped, there were no such nerves on the second, which swished through. After a Lithuania timeout and facing a three point deficit France fouled off the bat to keep Lithuania from shooting and the teams traded free throws to close the game out, France winning 95-93 and clinching the Bronze medal, the first World Championship medal in their history.