Tony Parker sparked hosts France into life before they turned up the heat on defence in the second half to rise above Latvia 84-70 in Lille on Tuesday, and move on to the EuroBasket 2015 semi-finals.
Turning Point: The hosts were struggling to find their rhythm in the first half and the 22,000-strong crowd were beginning to grow restless before Parker took charge. The leading scorer in EuroBasket history poured in nine points in a row to give the whole arena a lift and seize the initiative for his side. The French were dominant after the break and an emphatic alley-oop finish from Rudy Gobert, off the Parker pass, opened up the first double-digit lead midway through the third quarter, capping a 19-6 sequence.
Stats Don't Lie: Energy and enthusiasm spread through the team following Parker's scoring spurt. This resulted in a steep increase in defensive pressure which contributed to Latvia connecting on just two of their 18 field goal attempts in the third period - having gone 17-of-28 (61%) in the first half.
Game Hero: Parker had been somewhat passive in the past few games, seemingly playing with the handbrake on and waiting for the time when his team really needed him. That moment arrived in the first half of this game and he was at his talismanic best, the emotion and drive clear to see too, as he finished 18 points and six assists in 30 minutes.
The Bottom Line: France's defence of the EuroBasket title goes on, to the delight of the home fans. The victory tees up a third consecutive semi-final appearance, against great rivals Spain, while also securing a place in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, at the very least. Latvia know that their most important mission still lies ahead with the teams finishing in positions three to seven joining the race for Rio - and what would be a first Olympic appearance in men's basketball since 1936 for the Baltic nation. They can get there with a win over Greece on Thursday.
They Said: "The way they play caught us off balance with lots of moving and screening. We tried to switch a lot and it worked out for us" - Boris Diaw.
|Kaspars Berzins has been a colossus under the hoops for Latvia, and will need to be at his blocking-best against the athletic Gobert|
In Tuesday's second quarter-final, defending champions and hosts France come against a Latvian side returning to the quarter-finals for the first time since 2001.
Record: France WWWWWW v Latvia WLWLWW
France roared into the quarter-finals with a dominant 23-point victory over Turkey in the Round of 16. The undefeated reigning champs are rounding in form as the Turkey triumph came on the heels of a 25-point win over Israel to decide the top spot in Group A. Latvia reached their first top eight since 2001 by surprising Slovenia for their second straight win for the first time in the competition.
|France head coach Vincent Collet knows Latvia well, having come up against them at the three previous EuroBaskets|
Key Match-Up: Rudy Gobert v Kaspars Berzins
While the Tony Parker v Janis Strelnieks match-up will have a major impact, Berzins will need a strong game inside against the long and athletic French. Berzins will need to score some points inside to create space for Latvia's shooters while also grabbing rebounds and helping guard against drives to the rim.
Key Stat: France have the number one defence in the competition, allowing just 64.7 points. Les Bleus also are fourth in scoring with 80.5 points per game. Latvia meanwhile are 19th in points scored at 70.2 but are number one in opponent field goal percentage at 40.0%.
|Bagatskis admits the crowd in Pierre Mauroy Stadium will be a major factor for the French|
"We know a lot about (Latvia). They have been our opponent in the past three EuroBaskets since 2009 in the First Round. We know this team is dangerous, and they are more dangerous than last time. Berzins is playing well and they have kept their style. They can be fantastic. The main thing will be to play good defence" - France head coach Vincent Collet.
"I cannot imagine what the atmosphere will be like. That is their biggest advantage. They have NBA players, Euroleague players and a great coach." - Latvia coach Ainars Bagatskis.
Both Latvia and France come out of the Round of 16 without major injury problems. Their previous three EuroBasket encounters, as alluded to by Collet, all went in favour of the French.