Slovenia battled, but France had the answers as the hosts bowed out at the quarter-final stage.
A Tony Parker-led 27 points gave France a 72-62 victory over host nation Slovenia at a packed Stozice Arena full of colour and noise.
“He [Parker] played very good tonight,” France’s Nando De Colo said. “It was a team effort though. We played aggressive, and we played for the win for our fans too. No doubt, parker was great, he made crazy shots but important shots. He is a big value to us.”
Slovenia had nothing to be ashamed of at the end. They performed to the best of their ability, but once France established an advantage, the hosts were unable to catch them, no matter what they tried.
“Definitely the toughest game we’ve played at this Eurobasket so far,” France’s Boris Diaw said.
“It was definitely a defensive game, in the first half. So few, so little points in that first half. Second half it was more of a mental game. We were in the lead for pretty much all game, but it was tougher than it looked.”
“We knew they would come out really tough, they were really aggressive,” said Slovenia’s Goran Dragic, who had a game-high 27 points.
“They beat us in rebounding, which was key and it’s really tough to play against those guys. When we made a run, they came back. It was hard.”
Nicholas Batum added 14 points and Diaw 10 as France advance to the semi-finals to face Spain in a repeat of the 2011 Eurobasket final. A game that many thought would be the final, instead gets played a day earlier.
“We were ready for the game, we knew Slovenia would come out aggressively,” said De Colo. “They got some big players who can dominate when given the chance, it was important to fight this and limit them whenever possible. We got the win though and now move on. We have a place in FIBA World Cup but we must think about winning the tournament.”
Slovenia raced out to an early 4-0 lead off buckets from Zoran Dragic. But the hosts never settled into the contest, missing a lot of jumpers early on. France though were the same in a quarter that never got going. The Dragic brothers combined for 10 of Slovenia’s first 12 points at the end of the first quarter.
France took the initiative in the second quarter, Parker fed Petro inside which was followed by a three-point play from Parker himself. Slovenia struggling to find their feet with the whole nation watching.
Vidmar got the near sell-out crowd inside the Stozice to its feet with a score to break the hosts’ cold spell before Parker again took the stage as intercepted a cross-court pass, en route to the basket for the lay-in. Nachbar scored five quick fire points to put Slovenia back in front before the NBA duo of Diaw and Parker combined to give France a 26-24 lead at the half.
Nachbar tied the game at 26-26, but what followed was a 10-0 run from the 2011 runners-up that included five points from Batum.
A nation held its breath.
New Red Star recruit Blazic gave the home crowd something to shout about by draining a three; he then hit another triple from an identical spot to narrow the gap to 39-42 with 3:09 remaining in the quarter.
Slovenia competed, but France had the answers in the form of Parker, who majestically danced his way to the hoop at will to give France a 50-45 lead. A three-pointer from Lorbek on the third quarter buzzer providing a nation – a united country through basketball and Eurobasket 2013 – with hope.
The nerves got bigger when a three-point play from Batum, despite the protests of the home crowd and a bucket inside from De Colo gave France a 59-49 lead with 5:58 left, forcing coach Maljkovic into a timeout.
Slovenia and their raucous home support threw everything, but France had the answers for everything that came their way. A hammer dunk from Batum in transition followed by a bucket from Parker were both daggers. Slovenia had to foul – but it was too late.