Powered on by 26,135 screaming fans, France cruised past Turkey to book their spot in the quarter finals of EuroBasket 2015. Emmet Ryan reports from the arean
If there’s a more intimadating sound in sports than the Marseillaise I’ve yet to hear it. Stade Pierre du Mauroy was loud long before the anthems, Tony Park got his own special cheer through the din, but once that song came this place was something else. The locals are hoping for at least four nights like that here before the tournament is done. Turkey knew that to stop that happening they had to start fast. Whatever about auditory effect, this past summer the most terrifying sight in basketball was Bobby Dixon, now known as Ali Muhammed, pulling up for a jumper.
The heat was most definitely on the French side before this game. Long before Spain and Poland opened the evening session there were thousands of French fans queuing to get in but, despite their unbeaten record, we hadn’t seen France anywhere close to their best yet. The prospect of Turkey with a rest day in them wasn’t to be taken lightly. When rested, Turkey looked like a side that could take on and score heavily against anyone. Their record in Berlin hid this strength but Vincent Collet knew the danger ahead of his charges. Muhammed had played club ball under Collet and definitely had a point to prove against a coach he didn’t exactly enjoy playing under. France meanwhile had all the expectation. There are few places where basketball is bigger than this region and here they were in front of almost 27,000 of their own people with huge expectations.
Turkey started with confidence but France were more than a match for them in the early going. A Rudy Gobert dunk brought the crowd to its feet. Nicolas Batum forced a turnover from Cedi Osman on the subsequent possesion and Nando De Colo turned it into a three. Turkey kept firing but De Colo’s second three and a lay-up by Batum put France up 7. There was a touch of a tweak to Ergin Ataman’s offence. He was letting France do all the running. In Turkey’s two most impressive displays in Group B, Ataman had his men go out fast from the off. With 48 hours between games, Turkey certainly had the energy to push a hard pace here but instead were opting for a more patient approach. It wasn’t helping much on offence early but there was a sense Ataman was waiting to give his men the order to drop the hammer.
Out of the timeout Ersan Ilyasova came out shooting. Threes by him and Muhammed helped Turkey on an 8-0 run to take the lead. The crowd steadied. They realised this wasn’t going to be a procession. After 10 minutes, Turkey led 18-17.
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Turkey picked up where they had left off to start the second. A Cedi Osman three stretched the lead to 4 but Mickael Gelabale responded immediately. Save only for Nemanja Bjelica, there isn’t a player at this tournament who has done more to impress his future NBA employers than Osman. He’s heen by far their best wing and the one man who could handle Ataman’s hard pace on back to back nights. Osman is logging real minutes and showing what the young new generation of Turkish players can do. This isn’t just 12 Giant Men anymore, it’s a team transitioning into a slick exciting outfit. This EuroBasket has probably come too soon for them but 2017 and 2021 couldn’t look more promising right now.
France were getting their highlight reel moments, Evan Fournier tied the game with a big dunk to raise the roof, but Turkey were playing smart. By not over-stretching his side they were doing just enough on offence to keep this one interesting and Collet sat Parker 4 minutes from the end of the half, a move that didn’t sit well with the San Antonio Spurs man. Once more France pushed out late in the frame thanks to a Joffrey Lauvergne three. Once more, Ataman kept his head and called his charges in. This was no time to panic. The game was still going more to their liking than the home team.
France however locked down on D to close the half. This was enough to get the crowd rocking again. The lead hit double digits, the rabid masses were getting what they wanted. Ataman watched the final seconds of the half stretching his lips. He had come through harder battles but he was starting to wonder what exactly was required to win this one. At the half, France led 36-26.
Ataman got agitated early in the second half and drew a T for his troubles. His side wasn’t falling further behind but the men who had been slouching for France up to now had shown up tonight and he was struggling to adapt. Batum, who has endured as rough an 18 months as any player, was finding his way through the lane with ease all evening. Then Parker, who has hardly been a monster, made a three to stretch it out more. “NANDO! NANDO!”rang out as France looked one course for the type of win they had been waiting for.
Collet has been blessed with a remarkable generation of ballers but consistency has not been their strong point. France started their run to the 2013 title in ugly fashion before eventually showing up at the business end of the competition. The World Cup was about as up and down as it could get, knocking out the hosts in a truly awful game of basketball before falling to a fired up Serbia team in the semis. Through 5 games and 5 wins here, observers have said we haven’t seen there real France but based on recent history, a bunch of poor displays in a tournament couldn’t be more real for Les Bleus. The only difference this time is the ugly part was also an undefeated phase. Now, here they were, in control against a rising force and on course for a clash with Latvia in the quarter finals. It’s hard to imagine the Batlic side putting up much of a challenge and as “Marchons, marchons” of La Marseillaise rang out in the third quarter, the fans here were already thinking of the semi-final with either Greece or Spain. Greece have played better, Spain have more pedigree, the smart money is on a belter of a hot mess that leaves the winner awfully fired up for Les Bleus.
Diaw fed Fournier for a three and with over a minute left in the third it was goodnight Turkey. France took a while to get going but that was as much fine play from Turkey as anything else. Early in the fourth the Marseillaise started again, this time with most of the 26,135 in attendance joining in. It paused briefly to celebrate a score before picking right back up. France were in the quarters. There will be in the semis and it’s going to take something special to stop them reaching the final.