Rather than report on every game individually, Emmet Ryan has treated the second day of Last 16 play as one continuous piece. That and it rained
12.00 – My bed, Ronchin
I realised something was up. My alarm hadn’t gone off. Turns out it doesn’t work if you turn the phone off. Not to worry, Croatia were sure to beat the Czech Republic and I’d get to see them in the last 8 against Serbia. Fabienne, my AirBnB host, is a retired English teacher and about as lovely a host as one could ask for. Every morning there’s a selection of breads waiting for me, lots of coffee, and her garden is cool too. Having no idea of the weather forecast I hit the road for the arena with lots of time to make the start of Serbia vs Finland. I quickly checked to see how well Croatia had done and…oh…oh…well so much for getting the Hezonja show against Serbia.
13.30 – Ronchin
There’s an alley right at the start of the 1km walk to Ports de Douai station. The rain came and boom, plans needed fixing. After taking shelter on a kerb below a bush I watched the flood. With zero rain gear, a tattered jacket that hasn’t closed in several years, and a light grey t-shirt it was way too heavy to walk. The deluge takes a while to subside. I make it about 200m to a rail bridge before everything goes to hell again. Another long wait, it’s not exactly promising that I’ll make the start of the game. I hit the road into the madness so I at least make some of it. There’s no cover between here and the station and everything goes to hell again. So much for my pathetic attempts to stay dry. This was all too familiar.
27 August 2009, somewhere outside of Dunmanway in Cork
The penultimate day of my 500 mile walk down the length of Ireland was the wettest. Most of the route from Dunmanway to Bantry, where I was staying with a friend I would lose far too soon, was grizzly. With my headband taking on water, never mind the rest of me, visibility was beneath nil on country roads where the drivers came round corners first and then looked to see who was there. It was safe, there were no major risks, but it wasn’t pretty. Pirlo’s favourite invention is the Playstation, mine was the iPod. For 28 days I had the same 90 track playlist on repeat. It was peaceful, I knew what I’d hear next even though I had no idea what I’d see. Barry Manilow’s Can’t Smile Without You was an oddly defiant one to belt out on the road, it was in Hellboy II and I rather dug it in the context. By the time I reached Bantry the skies had cleared. I met Kate, it was the last time I’d stay in her house. She let me relax in the hot tub before hitting the road for my final day.
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14.15 – Ports de Douai station
The first half is not going to happen now but the train is a relief from the deluge. I’m about 3.5km from the stadium. The change at Gare Lille de Flandres however doesn’t look like that’s goine to be the case. I raced 4 Cantons, the stadium stop and it’s pretty horrible. The rain is heavier as I walk to Stade Pierre du Mauroy. I think about buying a new t-shirt, I’d find out there was no way to access to the shops here. The rain doesn’t bother me so long as I can adapt. That’s what I learnt on that walk. The weather does what it wants, if you work around it then it won’t bother you. I also learned how to handle my own company. In a city where not speaking the language is a problem, that’s not bad. The stadium isn’t a bubble, this place is embracing the tournament. I just don’t want to become overly reliant on it. There are two off days here, I don’t plan on being in the Stade for either.
15.20ish – Stade Pierre du Mauroy
Finally here, everything gets plugged in. The second half isn’t on long and Finland are hanging in with Serbia. I need to get back online and see what’s been happening. The game immediately takes a back seat. Moses Malone is dead at 60. I’m far too young to have watched him but I’ve read plenty. We’re in an age of long-form basketball writing, there were no shortage of pieces about that season with the Sixers where the Fo-Fo-Fo quote was born. It’s so young to go. The RIPs are flowing on Twitter and Zach Harper is reminding everyone of his extraordinary consistency as a player. He performed over 8 years at a level from 1979 to 1987 at a level most players could barely dream of doing for one. Serbia pull away inside. It’s break time.
17.00 – Café Soho
These tournaments are, above all else, great for meeting people. Valentín has been a buddy since Milano in 2014, I join him, a French journalist Gaetan, and some friends of theirs over from NBA outfits for lunch. Well save for Gaetan and me, we’ve already eaten, the quirks and oddities of the way we travel around, the culture, funny basketball stories, it’s all so relaxing and easy. The type of people who you’ve literally never said hello to before but can get chatting with fast. That’s something worth appreciating. An hour out of the rain also doesn’t hurt. Time to go back to work.
18.30 – Israel vs. Italy
Finally some basketball. There’s actually a decent turnout in the arena unfortunately there bulk of the crowd is in the top tier. With empty seats all round the court, the players might as well be in the Arena in Tallaght than this cavernous beast. This game was always going to go one of two ways. Either Italy would make their shots and win handily or they wouldn’t at would be a awfully long night for Simone Piangiani. Italy only went 16 or 37 in the first half but it was still far better than Israel’s ugly 13 of 31. They were going to make it to Wednesday. I meet David Pick in the elevator at half-time, we exchange complaints about the weather and I tell him how it would have been smarter to play the games in his neck of the woods. The weather’s gorgeous there and the high aircon bills are worth it when this is the alternaitve. From the media catering area I hear the chant below of “Lietuva! Lietuva!” From a business standpoint these guys matter a bunch. Raptors fans bought into our coverage of the World Cup well last year, this is my first night where I’ll get to see Jonas and company. The mixed zone is vital. Get Jonas, get the Canadians. Don’t and hope for the best at the quarters.
Italy stretched their lead to 17 points by midway in the third quarter. At this stage it’s a procession. Apparently today’s deluge is down for the week. That’s going to make wandering Lille a more adventurous affair but Fabienne, my host, has mailed to offer to bring me to the station some mornings. AirBnB is just the best. With 10 minutes to play Italy lead by 29. All is well, forget about this team redefining inconsistency in Berlin. For now at least. Get Gallo, Bello, Bargs, and Casspi. One is good, two is great, anything more is brilliant. There are more journalists asking questions in English here. That’s better than Berlin. Strength in numbers. There’s time for a toilet break and on the way back Sabonis is over to the right, watching Lithuania’s potential quarter final opponents. They’ve got to beat Georgia first. I need them to beat Georgia too. Italy eventually win 82-52.
Gallo was great, no Casspi but Mekel was talking for Israel. Then Bello, the man I couldn’t get in Berlin was finally going to give an interview in English. We waited, the volunteer said he was coming. Eventually Marco Belinelli arrives to the horde “In Italian first” and we wait some more. Finally he is ushered our way and says he has to go and say hello to someone. He embraces a man to our left and immediately disappears up the gangway. It’s frustrating but you have to respect his hustle.
20.35 – Media area
I stop by a Latvian journalist. He tells me he’s been asking French fans if they know where Latvia is. When they say no, he tells them “Latvia is in the semi finals.” Getting this far is big for Latvia and they are massive underdogs but there’s a hint of confidence in his voice. Ismail Senol greets me and asks me how life is. I suddenly realise how I tired I am because I struggle to explain that everything is going pretty great. Back in May he told a bunch of us to keep an eye on Karsiyaka in the TBL Playoffs. For all his pedigree as a journalist, we struggled to think this was more than wishful thinking. Yup, we misread that one badly.
21.00 – Lithuania vs Georgia, first half
The Lithuania fans have fattened up the lower tier a bit. They know their side didn’t excel in the group stage but they are still the favourites here. A three from Paulius Jankunas rouses them but Georgia are right with them in the early going. A couple of Lithuanian journalists had said they were worried about this one. With the way the team was playing and Valanciunas having to carry them while ill, this wasn’t exactly the LTU side that stormed through the latter end of EuroBasket 2013. The usual gags about how Viktor Sanikidze looks about 90 fly around Twitter. After the first it was Georgia up 20-17 and Lithuania were running Mantas Kalneits hard. He played the full frame and sat for just 1.30 in the second before going back in. Georgia’s lone NBA man, Zaza Pachulia was making a solid nuisance of himself. Georgia stretched the lead to 9 although neither side looked to e actually getting much done. It was more that Georgia were doing something and Lithuania were floundering all round. Lithuania hasn’t missed the Olympics since independence. Only once, in 2012, did they fail to make the medal rounds. That was a team in transition, 2013 was a sign that the old LTU was on the way back. Tonight, they were floundering with an admittedly weakened line-up but defeat here and they’d have to pray to get a wold card for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Jonas Maciulis calmed things from deep. At a Georgia timeout the giant Lithuanian flag rocked up and down as the DJ played the Addams Family theme. On the next possession Sanikidze leaps to finish off an alley-oop only to realise just in time that Georgi Tsintsadze’s shot is going in. A three for Georgia. Maciulis is keeping them from pulling away but the Lithuanian supporters were getting anxious. “Fuck you referee” rang out the next time Pachulia got to the line. Luigi Lamonica wasn’t getting a lot of love on Twitter either.
22.03 – Lithuania vs Georgia, second half
At the half I meet Alex Proshuta and mention how Maciulis is the man keeping LTU in it. Alex was in Riga, he said it was like that throughout the whole of the group phase. Maciulis was back leading the charge again in the third quarter as he put them into an early 6 point lead on the back of a 7-0 run. Georgia responded with a 9-0 run of their own. Pachulia was doing work and Georgia could sense the upset. With Valanciunas looking out of it, Lithuania were relying on their calming presence Maciulis to also be the man who got them into the last eight. He was doing all in his power to do so. The Real Madrid man finished the third quarter with 25 points for the ame. Georgia up by the minimum.
Maciulis threw an angry looking pass to Arturas Milaknis who promptly made the three. Liet-u-va started to ring out again. Jacob Pullen scored a pull-up three from deep to ensure the lead didn’t last long. The former Kansas State Wildcat is playing for Georgia under the import rule. It’s an unusual and much-discussed quirk in the game. Some nations wouldn’t go near it for fear of offending their fans, Serbia and Lithuania the most obvious examples. Others dabble, like Russia has in the past. Technically these players are naturalised, they get passports, but the process varies nation to nation and player to player. The better you are and the more the team needs you, the faster it happens. Point guards benefit most from the process, Lithuania could easily have made their back court deeper with one. They wouldn’t consider it.
Maciulis kept doing work and Lithuania were keeping in front, albeit barely. With Tornike Shengelia fouling out, Georgia were missing a key scorer. This is a team with a solid starting five but nothing on the bench, literally, as they had zero bench points until deep into the third. The priorities for the post-game started coming to mind. Maciulis, naturally, Valanciunas because of the Raps fans, Pachulia, and probably Pullen. Zaza and JV mattered more for hits but as stories the other two were relevant. JV, scoreless since the first, popped up with a lay-up and Lithuania were starting to look in some shaky form of control. Georgia mounted a late charge, so Maciulis buried them from deep. He wasn’t losing tonight.
23.15 – Post game
Of all the times for the Wifi to drop. No Maciulis but getting the other three was immense. The job is done but time is the enemy. The last metro anywhere is at 00.17 and I can’t publish or upload squat. It’s a race to the press room, two floors about. Videos of JV, Pullen, and an emotional one from Pachulia go up. Posted, tweeted, shared on Facebook. Job done. Now to the metro. I make it with ample room to spare, running into Asta from a Lithuanian TV station along the way. With the rain having subsided, I get a Lietuva fan to take my picture with my still damp gear to celebrate.
00.00 – Rihour
This is my spot, not because the bars are particularly good but one has wifi so that means I can Uber my way home. For the second night in a row I’ve been advised about how rough a spot Ronchin is. I know the deal with AirBnB. Sometimes cheap means Kreuzberg, sometimes it means Washington Heights. There’s a bar open and I shoot the shit with some French hacks for a couple of hours. It’s the same game wherever you go. This is how we take the edge off. Three beers, then back to base. It’s not a night to go crazy. Those have happened and will come but the night before a rest day is best spent taking it easier. There are big days to come. The type which will need a proper session to cool off after. This was just a long, and wet, one.
02.14 – Ronchin
Back at base. I didn’t get Mario, because I slept, and I didn’t get Bello because he had style. Time to chill out now. 30 minutes of the come down. Then sleep and the rest day. That involves more work but the intensity is off. That’s all anyone can really want. Basketball never sleeps but BiE does. Goodnight.