France breeze past Latvia, set up last four date with Spain

Marko Metlas / FIBA Europe
Photo: Marko Metlas / FIBA Europe

France recovered from a slow start to beat Latvia 84-70 in the second quarter-final in Lille on Tuesday night.

The hosts maintain their unbeaten run at Eurobasket and will now face Spain, who have been booed throughout their time in Lille in a rematch of the 2013 semi-final, with an automatic spot at the 2016 Rio Olympics at stake.

Tony Parker led France with 18 points, with San Antonio Spurs team-mate Boris Diaw supporting with 14 points.

But if there were signs at the beginning that outsiders Latvia would show France respect, that was thrown out the window early as the Baltic nation showed great confidence going inside to take an early 10-5 lead thanks to a three-point play from Dairis Bertans.

Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert though countered demonstrated his soft touch inside to keep the hosts in it, but overall Latvia were good value for their 25-21 lead after one.

As the game progressed, France gradually become more involved and then Eurobasket 2013 MVP Parker’s class shone hit his side’s final nine points to hand the reigning champions a 40-38 advantage at the half against a Latvia team, shooting 61 percent from the field.

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Tony Parker hit France’s last nine points in the second quarter, which ultimately led them to victory. Photo: FIBA

Eager to keep the momentum going, France closed the door on Latvia’s easy drives down the middle of the basket and steadily built a double-digit lead half-way through the third quarter when Parker lobbed to Gobert in transition, who emphatically slammed it home to the delight of the 22,076 inside the stadium. 

The Latvians were now beginning to miss the shots that they were making in the first half, as the hosts were breaking down the maroon rearguard, and Latvia’s solid shooting percentage rapidly plummeted as they were held to just seven points in the third and France enjoyed a 56-45 cushion.

A three off a long offensive rebound from Parker restored France’s double-digit lead at 59-47 early into the fourth and as the last period wore on, Latvia were fatiguing. They were missing lay-ups and awkwardly airballing open three-pointers, while Parker continued his relentless onslaught inside, cutting along the baseline to put his side up 66-49 and forcing Latvia to call time with just under five minutes to play.

Latvia showed faint signs of life but it was all in vain. They showed a great deal of national pride in getting to this stage, but they were a beaten team.

Rudy Gobert (France):

We’re happy with the win in the end. We didn’t start particularly well but when Tony [Parker] got going, it gave us the lift that we needed and in the locker room, we just wanted to take control coming out for the third and we did.

Janis Strelnieks (Latvia):

We started well, but France just got better and better and Tony Parker was outstanding. But despite the loss, we’re proud to have represented Latvia and we are proud of what we have done in this tournament.

Photo: FIBA