Pau Gasol poured in an international career-high 40 points and Spain outlasted 2013 champions France 80-75 in overtime in a gripping semi-final for the ages in front of a record crowd of 26,922 at Pierre Mauroy Stadium in Lille.
Turning Point: A put-back dunk by Pau Gasol put Spain ahead 78-75 with 18 seconds remaining in overtime and Victor Claver fouled Nicolas Batum just as he was pulling up for a long three-pointer. To the astonishment of the crowd the French forward, who had previously sent the game into the extra session with a dagger three-pointer 13 seconds from the end of regulation, missed all three of his free-throws. Spain came up with the rebound after the last miss, broke the zone press and Gasol signed off with another imperial dunk.
Stats Don't Lie: Spain fell behind by 11 points late in the third quarter and while it took them an eternity to come back and level the scores, the 2-3 zone defence they employed took away from France the option to put the ball inside. While Spain scored 42 of their points in the paint on 21-for-40, France had to settle for shots from range and shot only 14-of-32 from within the Spanish paint.
Game Hero: The 40 points on 12-for-21, 11 rebounds, three blocks and one steal of Pau Gasol tell only half the story of the colossal performance of the Spanish superstar on Thursday. Sergio Rodriguez was superb offensively for the winners coming off the bench while the boxscore does not reflect the crucial contribution of Sergio Llull, who chased down Tony Parker at first and then Nando De Colo as if they owed him money and made it impossible for either of the two to score on him.
Bottom Line: Spain have extracted revenge from France for the lost EuroBasket semi-final of 2013 and the quarter-final of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup and will get a shot at their third European trophy against the winner of the second semi-final, between Serbia and Lithuania. Spain have also secured a direct berth in the 2016 Olympics while France will have to play in the bronze medal game and the Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
"It was an incredible game, so hard-fought by both teams and an extremely difficult game to win here in France against a big team, I am very happy and proud for our team" - Pau Gasol.
"Nobody is mad at Nico for losing those free-throws, we should have been in a better position, in a position to win before that" - France captain Boris Diaw.
|Pau Gasol is amongst the frontrunners for MVP honours|
It has been dubbed the "El classico" of international basketball and, given the recent rivalry between these two great European powerhouses, the title is indeed fitting.
Record: Spain LWLWWWW v France WWWWWWW
Spain v France - that just rolls off the tongue as one of the marquee match-ups in European basketball. And that's exactly what is has become - even on a global stage - over the past six summers. Spain advanced to their ninth straight EuroBasket semi-finals by defeating an inform Greek side 73-71 - one of the few times Spain were considered in numerous circles as underdogs in a game in recent years. An improved second-half performance took France past Latvia 84-70 for their third-straight final four showing.
The countries' history is full of big game showdowns. Spain beat France in the EuroBasket 2009 quarter-finals, EuroBasket 2011 final and the 2012 London Olympics quarter-finals. France finally broke through against Spain, winning in overtime in the EuroBasket 2013 semi-finals and then knocked off the hosting Spanish side in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup quarter-Finals.
Key Match-Up: Pau Gasol v Rudy Gobert
Gasol is one of the leading candidates thus far for MVP as EuroBasket 2015's leading scorer and fourth-best rebounder. Gobert has improved greatly since last summer's debut with the senior team and his defense has been key for France's undefeated run to the
|Rudy Gobert has shown steady improvement since last representing his nation a year ago in Spain|
Key Stat: Spain are ranked third in scoring with 85.9 points per game while France sport the tightest defence, only allowing 65.4 points per game. With this in mind, it is of little surprise that they additionally top the rankings in steals, rebounds and blocks.
"I think we all know Spain is a great team and they showed their experience (against Greece). Other than the third quarter they controlled the tempo. We know we will have to play very aggressive defence for 40 minutes. Spain is not only great on offence but they control the court very well on defence. They give you only jump shots and Pau guards the paint well. And the guards bring the players to Pau" - France head coach Vincent Collet.
"Being in the semi-final with so many main players out is a great, great accomplishment. But we don't want to see it as a goal achieved. We want to keep going. Until an opponent overcomes us, we will be there"- Spain head coach Sergio Scariolo.
- Pau Gasol (leg) and Rudy Fernandez (back) are both fully healthy and ready to go while France have no injuries to report heading into the Semi-Finals.
- The winner will book an automatic ticket to the 2016 Rio Olympics.