France came back from 14 points down to beat Spain 75-72 in overtime at the Stozice Arena as the rematch of the 2011 final certainly did not disappoint the pre-game hype.
Tony Parker was his usual inspirational self once more, leading France with 32 points but the hero of the game was his back-up Antoine Diot who iced the game with four crucial free throws to bring his side to Sunday’s finale, a match-up against Lithuania.
“I do it all the time in practice,” Diot said on his game-winning free throws. “I try to forget everything, and just shoot the ball.
“It’s difficult, and if I think about the pressure and everything, I will miss it but today I forget about everything and just shot the ball like I was in practice.”
Diot hasn’t exactly had much of a spotlight in this tournament – but this was his night – despite the San Antonio Spurs’ game-high 32 points, he even admitted that this moment was his.
“I’m proud of him,” Parker said. “It was his big moment and I believed in him to steer us to the win, and he did it.”
Diot ended with 10 points, Boris Diaw added eight.
Marc Gasol had 19 points to lead Spain. Rudy Fernandez, 17.
“They executed better at the end of the game,” Gasol conceded. “Offensively, we stopped executing. We were two [points] up in overtime, but we stopped playing, they used a lot of clock and we couldn’t find anything.”
After a thrilling climax to the fourth period where Alexis Ajinca scored his first point from the line for France to send the game to an extra period at 65-65, Jose Calderon had a chance to win for Spain, but his three was long. The two teams played out the last five minutes notably fatigued. Four points, all from the free throw line from Parker gave France an advantage.
“It goes so fast that you don’t have time to even think about it,” France coach Vincent Collet said regarding Calderon’s three-point attempt.
Sergio Rodriguez gave Spain hope with a three-point play, but Diot had the last word.
“We are disappointed,” Rodriguez said.”We led in the game for 37 minutes but losing a game like that is hard.”
Ricky Rubio was energetic in the opening exchanges; he scored from the baseline then stole possession from France to allow Victor Claver to score comfortably. Parker took it upon himself to keep his side in it. He scored 10 of France’s first 14 points in the first quarter.
His supporting cast though was not scoring and the holders took advantage, a dunk from Fernandez as the quarter ended gave Spain an 18-14 lead after one.
Spain were in the zone, France, apart from Parker not hitting form of any sort. A 13-0 run ballooned the lead to 31-18, which included three triples in that spell. Parker broke the spell with a lay-up in traffic. He was the only French player scoring.
The frustration was beginning to tell; Boris Diaw took down Sergio Llull in transition resulting in an unsportsmanlike foul. Llull went one of two from the line as Spain took a 34-20 lead to the locker rooms.
Diaw came out in the third fighting; he got back-to-back buckets to start the quarter as they upped the defensive ante themselves. Spain were scrappy, caving in to France’s aggressive tactics by reacting angrily. A timeout was called – things were getting a little heated between the two.
The French made a great comeback, reeling from the stern words that coach Collet gave his team. A three from Mickael Gelabale narrowed the gap to 46-43 only for Llull to end the hot spell with a triple of his own to end the third.
A three from Nando De Colo followed by a bucket from Gelabale brought France to within one, but Fernandez came back with a trademark back door cut leading to a slam off the lob from Llull. A few minutes later, the Real Madrid man repeated the play to give Spain a 60-53 lead.
It seemed whatever France were throwing at Spain, the champions had an answer.
Finally Parker had found the antidote. His three gave France the lead for a matter of seconds before Gasol hit from the foul line to restore Spain’s lead.
Then began the dramatic conclusion.
Photo courtesy of FIBA Europe.