One week ago, Spain toyed with France winning by 22 in group play. Spain dominated inside — Marc Gasol had 17 points, Pau Gasol 15 — and played defense that held the French to 39 percent shooting.
Wednesday the scrip flipped — and the USA’s path to the gold medal just became a lot more wide open.
France played a fantastic defensive game Wednesday — their recovery on the pick-and-roll was spot on all game, while inside the combination of Joffrey Lauvergne in the first half and the Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert in the second held Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka to a combined 5 points on 2-of-14 shooting.
The result was a shocking upset — France 65, Spain 52. No Tony Parker or Joakim Noah, no problem. France advances on to the World Cup semifinal Friday against Serbia.
Host Spain is done. Adios. It was shocking because they were undefeated in the tournament having won their previous six games by an average 26.5 points. They, along with Team USA, had looked like the clearly two dominant squads of this World Cup, and with Spain at home there was seemingly no question that they would play for the gold.
Suddenly the USA’s path to gold looks much easier. Lithuania (Thursday’s opponent) and either France or Serbia in the final might have a puncher’s chance against the USA. But really it would take their best games and a terrible, off night from the USA to see an upset.
Spain seemed flummoxed by what France did defensively, with fantastic pick-and-roll defense and discipline that didn’t give the Spanish guards (or bigs) room to make the ball moving passes they had all tournament. France also did a great job of slowing the game down, not letting the guards of France get a lot of easy buckets in transition.
Plus, Spain just missed shots. They started 0-9 from three in the first half and were just 2-of-22 from three for the game. On the night Ricky Rubio was 1-of-7 shooting, Sergio Rodriguez 0-of-3, Rudy Fernandez 2-of-6. Combine that with Ibaka and Marc Gasol’s off nights and you have a Spanish team that shot just 32 percent.
But maybe the most shocking part of the night was the way Lauvergne and Gobert controlled the paint and glass – Gobert had 13 rebounds and Lauvergne 10, while the Gasol brothers had a dozen combined.
We have talked about how for Team USA players like Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried could use their World Cup play as a springboard into a huge NBA season. Throw Gobert on that list.
Also we should be fair to Pau Gasol, who was the one Spanish player who had a good night — 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting plus he had three blocks. He had a very strong entire tournament. Bulls fans will love him this season (likely in a way some Lakers fans never did).
On offense France was doing enough attacking off the dribble in the half court, keeping it a half court game and slowing it down. And they were hitting their shots when it mattered. Boris Diaw had 15 points to lead the way, and late in the game some of the offense ran through him (and as you would expect, it was creative and smart with the ball). Then there was point guard Thomas Heurtel, who was running the show late and hit a couple of key baskets including a dagger three.
It was a team win for France, the European champions who are now looking at a real chance to medal at the World Cup.
It was a team loss for Spain in a year that, at home, they thought they could get a World Cup gold medal. But in a one-and-done tournament you have to bring it every night.
Wednesday France brought it, and they move on.
Much to the delight of Team USA (even though they would never say that publicly).