Though only one day of the 2011FIBA EuroBasket tournament is in the books, it’s never too early to make some kneejerk reactions, right? While a few suspenseful games played out last night, most prognosticators were certainly able to score a 12-0 record in picking winners in first-day games. (BallinEurope went 11-1, but that’s only due to his disgusting man crush on Bo McCalebb and his FYR Macedonia side.) Herewith, a few reflections on the initial happenings of the year’s biggest basketball tourney.
• Tony Parker is the single most important player in the tournament. (Yes, even moreso than Dirk Nowitzki or Pau Gasol.) One could argue that the dagger was applied to the now corpsified Team Latvia by Nicolas Batum, whose three-pointer put the game out of reach at 75-70 with 4:33 left in the fourth quarter, but it was the San Antonio Spur single-handedly willed his side to victory last night.
Parker was the second-high scorer in last night’s games (after, ironically, Latvia’s Janis Blums) with 31 points on 11-of-18 overall shooting – an excellent 61%, for those keeping score at home – alongside his seven assists which continuously made Boris Diaw and the other Bleus look like one of the best teams in this thing. The point guard role tends to take on exaggerated importance in European national-team tournaments, and Parker is the best in this EuroBasket without question.
• Fearless Prediction: No shocking upsets will happen in the first round. Not one. Sure, BiE was fooled for a while along with many observers about some games – Finland took a 43-41 lead into the half against Croatia thanks to a couple sloppy turnovers in the last 1:30; Bosnia & Herzegovina was up on Greece by three after 20 minutes; FYR Macedonia had BiE believing into overtime against Montenegro; and even Lithuania and its top-heavy lineup looked vulnerable against upstart Great Britain when the home team faltered badly in a disastrous third quarter.
But come on, sober up! The reality remains that there are just too many damn teams in this EuroBasket and games one are, as Team Spain’s Jose Calderon succinctly put it in the post-game presser, “always like this.” Call it facing the unknown, call it adrenaline, call it increasing parity in Continental basketball, the truth is that the better 10 or 12 teams in Europe will find a way to make adjustments at halftime – and this elite is ultimately head and shoulders above the pack on any given game day. Go ahead and fill in your round two brackets in indelible ink now.
• Great Britain can’t close out games. The picture of a team not quite at the top level, Britain put about as much fear into Lithuania last night as they did into Spain back in the ’09 EuroBasket, with similar results. Then, the Brits had a lead in the fourth quarter; in ’11, the same. Two years ago, they lost by eight; yesterday, by 11.
Head coach Chris Finch yesterday told BiE that, while he likes his current roster, the one serious negative the team had in August friendly matchups was the inability to finish: “We played well in the warmup games, but closing out has been a problem.” At present, Britain is showing all the hallmarks of inexperience, yet could be dangerous in years to come.
• The Lithuanian roster is bizarre: Six bigs (Paulius Jankunas, Ksistof Lavrinovic, Marijonas Petravicius, Jonas Valanciunas, Robertas Javtokas, Darius Songaila) and just one true forward (Simas Jasaitis). This team seems to be built specifically for the huge lineups of Spain and Turkey, but, whoa, they had some bizarre problems against Great Britain. Watch the rotations to find out about the differences between European coaching strategy and NBA.
• Lithuania is as basketball crazy as the reputation. Man, after barely squeaking by unheralded Great Britain last night, the streets were full of partiers – one game and it was Canada after an Olympic hockey win. Gotta love it.