EuroBasket 2007 has entered it's elimination round with eight teams, and France just lost a heartbreaker to Russia, 75-71, to be the first team eliminated in the quarter-finals. The French really need to work on their free throw shooting. Tony Parker missed 2 of 4 attempts in the final 10 seconds, and those two misses would have tied the game at 73 with 2 seconds left had they gone in. In addition, Boris Diaw missed BOTH of two free throws with 15 seconds left! So that's 2 for 6 for Diaw and Parker in the final 15 seconds. Ouch. The score was tied at 69 with 86 seconds left. By the way, that was the second time in this tournament that Parker missed crucial free throws in the final minute.
Looking at this tournament on the whole, you definitely see a big NBA influence with a player like Dirk Nowitzki pretty much single-handedly carrying Germany into the quarterfinals, and with Parker and Gasol and Kirilenko among the stars of the event. In fact, the leading scorers in the tournament are Dirk, Gasol, Hedu Turkoglu, Parker and Kirilenko. But perhaps more interesting is the fact that NBA players are NOT guaranteeing success, nor are the teams without a major NBA presence automatically eliminated.
As is often the case in these tournaments, we've come a long way just to eliminate a handful of teams. Among those teams no longer playing as of the quarterfinals:
- Turkey, featuring NBA players Mehmut Okur, Turkoglu, Ersan Ilyasova, former NBA player Ibrahim Kutluay and NBA draft pick Cenk Akyol.
- Italy, featuring number 1 overall draft pick Andrea Bargnani and first rounder Marco Belinelli.
- Serbia, featuring former Clipper Marko Jaric and number 2 overall draft pick Darko Milicic (Serbia failed to win a game, and did not make it out of the first round).
Meanwhile, among the final 8, you have a couple teams that would be almost completely unknown to NBA fans.
- Greece has one NBA player on it's 12 man roster, and he barely played in the Assoc. Former Rocket and Jeff Van Gundy hater Vasileios Spanoulis walked away from his NBA contract to return to Europe this season. We know these guys can play, and Papaloukas and Diamantidis would be in the NBA tomorrow if they wanted to, but they enjoy playing in Europe, make good money, and prefer the style of play. Meanwhile, Tsakalidis and Fotsis and MBFGC are not playing for this team, despite their NBA resumes.
- Slovenia is 5-1 overall at EuroBasket with only two NBA players (hardly all stars, mind you) on their roster. Rasho Nesterovic and Uros Slokar, both on the Raptors Euro-heavy roster, are solid contributors for the Slovenians, though they certainly don't carry the team. Rasho is fifth on the team in minutes played and Slokar is 8th. Which tells me there are some other guys who are pretty good. By the way, Slovenia has gone 5-1 without the help of NBA veterans Beno Udrih, Bostjan Nachbar or Primoz Brezec, all of whom skipped this tourney.
The tournament seems to have almost intentionally resolved itself into an NBA Day and a non-NBA day here in the quarters. Today's two games feature Russia vs. France and Germany vs. Spain. NBA All Stars Tony Parker, Andrei Kirilenko, Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol are all in action. Tomorrow's games are Lithuania vs. Croatia and Slovenia vs. Greece. Sure, there are a few NBA players in action tomorrow, but nary an All Star, and barely a starter in the bunch (Nesterovic is the only starter I can think of in those games). In fact this tournament makes you wonder how guys like Saras Jasikevicius and Spanoulis have been so misused in the NBA. Lithuania is undefeated in the tournament, and Jasikevicius has been the heart and soul of that team for years, but he can't get off the bench in the last two seasons in the NBA. It makes no sense. The guy can play.
Looking at this tournament makes Team USA's success in Las Vegas all the more hollow. With the exception of Argentina, who was playing without it's best player and several starters, there wasn't a single team in Las Vegas who could stay on the floor with the eight quarterfinalists in Europe (and several teams who have been eliminated, for that matter). A forty point margin of victory against that competition was to be expected. Let's hope they aren't reading their own press clippings, and are ready for the real competition in Beijing.
One final Clipper-centric note: I find it somewhat troubling that none of the Clippers recent foreign draft picks (Russia's Korolev, Greece's MBFGC and Puerto Rico's Guillermo Diaz) were chosen to represent their countries in this summer's international action. That can't be considered a good sign.