Boris Diaw was huge for a team that proved to be more than the sum of its parts in beating a star-studded squad considered by many to be the favorite to win the whole thing.
No, I'm not talking about the NBA Finals. France just pulled off a gigantic 65-52 upset over a Spanish team that featured Pau and Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Jose Calderon and Ricky Rubio, among others.
It looked like there were not going to be any Spurs left in the tournament after Tiago Splitter and Brazil were crushed by Serbia, as Spain was a heavy favorite against a Parker-less French team. Not only Tony was missing but also Joakim Noah, Nando De Colo, and Ian Mahinmi. France finished third in Group C and was an underdog against Croatia but showed enough guile to advance. Yet a win over Spain was pretty much unthinkable.
Apparently nobody told the French players that as they came out swinging. They were the attacker early on, looking to pound the offensive glass and get to the rim as Spain seemed to think they had won the game before it even started. Boris provided some nice floor-balance and used his outside game to draw a big away from the paint, which is huge against a team with the size advantage Spain has. And going into the break France was surprisingly ahead.
Spain came out with a sense of urgency to start the second half and, with some home-cooking from the refs, combined with heady play from veteran leaders Pau Gasol and Juan Carlos Navarro closed the gap. But France never panicked. They continued to defend and execute as deliberately as possible, running the clock as deep as they could and using Spain's desperation against them. Rudy Gobert controlled the paint against a (on paper) significantly more qualified troika of big men and Thomas Heurtel prodded the defense with his dribble.
As the clock ticked on, Spain grew more anxious. They devolved into one-on-one basketball, which the French were happy to allow. The crowd tried to get the Spaniards back in it but the French had an answer for each charge. Diaw was huge on that last stretch, getting an offensive board, hitting a three over the wandering Ibaka and then working a pick-and-roll to perfection with Heurtel to finish with a little floater. Diaw would lead the team in scoring with 15 points while Heurtel chipped in with 13 of his own.
This year can't get any better for Diaw. He got his first championship, a lucrative new contract to stay with the Spurs, and now a huge win for a presumed to be over-matched French team that keeps defying expectations. Next up is Serbia, which should be considered the favorite. And if they make it past them, Diaw and company will likely face the übertalented U .S. team in the finals.
But that's fine by France, which seems to thrive on being the overachievers who keep toppling giants by playing as a team.
Does that sound familiar?
We'll have more coverage on the FIBA World Cup tomorrow.