VILNIUS, LITHUANIA - SEPTEMBER 10: Andrei Kirilenko of Russia dunks the ball during the EuroBasket 2011 second round match between Greece and Russia at Siemens Arena on September 10, 2011 in Vilnius, Lithuania. (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images)
As you may have noticed, I'm slightly less involved in EuroBasket now that Germany and Chris Kaman have been eliminated. I'm still following and watching of course, but I'm less compelled to write about it without the Clippers angle.
But today is a big day. The two semifinals today pit Spain against F.Y.R. of Macedonia and Russia against France. The teams have a double incentive to win today - obviously it's one more win on the way to the championship, but it also represents a trip to London for the 2012 Olympics since the top two teams qualify. The other game today means something as well - Greece and Serbia, who lost in quarterfinal games yesterday, face each other with the winner getting a spot in the last chance Olympic qualifying tournament next summer. So the stakes are high in all three games being played today.
Spain will be a heavy favorite against FYROM. Mo McCalebb and his teammates have had a great run, but it's going to come to an end today. That FYROM is in the semis is an amazing accomplishment, and several of their wins were unlikely. But even if they're a team of destiny, I think that destiny was to make it this far and secure a spot in the Olympic qualifying tournament. Beating Lithuania is one level of upset - beating pre-tournament favorite Spain, by far the most talented team in Europe, would be quite another.
France-Russia is a much tougher call. France was a little lucky to escape with a win over Greece yesterday. Had the Greeks shot a decent percentage from three point range (they were a dismal 3 for 21) it might well have been a different outcome. But down the stretch France's NBA guys, in particular Tony Parker and Nic Batum, carried them to a big win. We'll see in this game if France's strategy of sandbagging the game at the conclusion of group play pays off - if they make it past Russia and into the Finals, then resting Parker and Joakim Noah in that earlier meeting with Spain will have paid off. Russia is of course led by Andrei Kirilenko, who had one of those games in their semifinal that made him an NBA All Star at one point in his career - he led the Russians in scoring (14), rebounding (11), assists (6) and steals (4) against Serbia keeping Russia the only unbeaten team in the tournament.
One last aside: while watching France and Greece today, I couldn't help missing Sofoklis Schortsanitis, aka MBFGC. He left the Greek team in the run up to the tournament for personal reasons. Given his connection to the Clippers as a long ago second round pick and 2010 summer league player, I've always watched his international career with interest, but in the meantime I've developed an appreciation of his game. He's such a unique talent, so big but so quick for his size, that he's a lot of fun to watch. Greece wasn't the same without him. (Of course Sofo's not the only Greek star missing, and they just had a lot of trouble scoring with this team.) It seems as if he did not leave the team on the best terms: if Greece manages to beat Serbia and grab that final spot in the qualifying tournament, it will be interesting to see if he's back on Team Hellas next summer.