Batum leads "Les Bleus" over Koponen and Finland
Determined French national team won their second consecutive game in the additional qualifications for European Championship Games 2009 in Poland. This time they didn't need an overtime to do so like in their first game against Italy; they managed to beat Finland rather easily in front of loud and rowdy group of 7,500 spectators in Pau, France.
The name of the game was French interior dominance. While Finland did very well against French guards, just the strength and athleticism of French forwards and centers was way too much for Finns. France powered their way to the low post with superb pass and slash offense and finished with a 2pt field goal percentage of 67,5 % (27/40). Nicolas Batum (14/1), Florent Pietrus (12/6/3 assist), Ronny Turiaf (9/6/3 steals) and Johan Petro (8/4) did pretty much what they wanted against thin Finnish front line.
Finland didn't give up despite trailing throughout the game. Finns sank their 3pt shots with very good percentage (52,2 %) lead by 22-year old, 6-8" small forward Samuel Haanpää (21/0), who drained all six of his field goals, including five long range bombs. Point guards Petteri Koponen (16/5) and Teemu Rannikko (14/2/5 assists) also relied heavy on their outside shots. Finns basically had no weapons inside the paint; they finished with only two fast break points and ten 2pt field goals in the game. Another weak point for the Finns was their turnovers caused by lack of mobility: French help defense did excellent job in covering the passing lanes and forcing Finnish big men to stop dribbling in the middle of two- or three-man defense.
Here's a quick look at how the game did proceed. As you can see, it was pretty much a "catch me if you can" type of game, with French team extending the lead with fast breaks and Finland catching up with outside shots: 8-5, 21-9, 30-28, 48-35, 52-45, 63-47, 69-60, 75-60, 77-70, 82-72.
Tony Parker, recovering from a minor ankle injury, played only four minutes in the game, finishing with 3 points, one rebound and one assist. Boris Diaw was in foul trouble from the beginning and despite draining all four of his field goal attempts, his 10-point, 4-assist performance in 26 minutes was rather disappointing. Leaders of the young French team were forwards Batum and Pietrus, who caused problems for Finns all over the court, and 20-year old point guard Antoine Diot (16/3/4 assists).
And how did Koponen do? Good and bad. Everybody could clearly see he has turned out to be a very Americanized point guard. He managed to beat his man off the dribble every single time and cause some minor trouble for French interior defense momentarily, but because Finnish big men weren't really a threat, French big men Turiaf, Petro and Diaw could let their men almost open and roughen up with some very physical defense. Defensively, he did good job covering Parker and Spurs draftee Nando de Colo (8/1/5 assists/3 steals).
Finland has a couple of days off before hosting Italy in Vantaa this Tuesday. The game is a must win for both teams, so it will be interesting. French team travels to Italy next Friday and it's pretty safe to say that if they manage to win, they clinch their spot in last qualification round.
France - Finland 82-72 (28-21, 46-35, 63-47)
France: Antoine Diot 16/3/4 assists, Nicolas Batum 14/1, Florent Pietrus 12/6/3 assists, Boris Diaw 10/0/4 assists, Ronny Turiaf 9/6/3 steals, Johan Petro 8/4, Nando de Colo 8/1/5 assists/3 steals, Tony Parker 3/1, Alain Koffi 2/0, Aymeric Jeanneau 0/1, Yannick Bokolo, Ali Traore.
Finland: Samuel Haanpää 21/0, Petteri Koponen 16/5, Teemu Rannikko 14/2/5 assists, Hanno Möttölä 7/4, Tuukka Kotti 5/5, Gerald Lee 4/3, Mikko Koivisto 3/0, Antti Nikkilä 2/2, Kimmo Muurinen 0/3, Shawn Huff 0/1, Petri Virtanen 0/0, Vesa Mäkäläinen.
Petteri Koponen: 34 minutes, 2pt field goals 1/5, 3pt field goals 3/7, free throws 5/6, points 16, rebounds 5, assists 1, steals 1, blocks 1, turnovers 2, personal fouls 1.
In unrelated news, I really, really have been wanting to use the below video for a while. It does not make sense in this post. Don't worry about it. Still awesome.