Yes, I'm super cheesy. Congratulations to France and Spain for reaching the Final and guaranteeing their tickets for next year's Olympics in London. Great praise should also go to FYROM, Russia, Greece, and Lithuania for making the qualifying tournament next summer. But now, we focus on who will finish where on the podium.
Sunday at 10:30 a.m. EST
The fact that the perennial underdogs were LEADING Spain at the end of the 1st half on Friday is something to be proud of. They competed a lot better than Slovenia did. Bo McCalebb and Pero Antic did their usual thing on the floor. If Bo leads FYROM to the bronze, he has an outside chance at nabbing tournament MVP.
After hitting the game-winner that got them there, Vlado Ilieski somehow managed a 50% shooting night for a change. Predrag Samardziski did was necessary and raised his level of play. The Antic-Samardziski frontcourt, for most of the last match, actually outplayed the Gasol brothers. They just couldn't handle Ibaka in the end. Unfortunately for FYROM, the Semifinal was way too high scoring for them to keep up. They needed a fifth man to truly step up their scoring, and neither Stojanovski brother really had a decent game.
This team can still win a medal though. I doubt their spirits are down considering the continuous basketball barriers this squad has been bulldozing over. If they bring their normal energy, attitude, and focus, 3rd place can be obtained. They are dealing with a Russia side that has been very problematic for others trying to score on them. This match will no doubt be a low scoring affair. I'd say first to 70 prevails.
As you'd expect, the main goal is to somehow contain Kirilenko. Then you have the Samardziski-Mozgov matchup. If the Russians can be denied the paint, and be forced to throw up jumpers, victory can definitely be obtained. Coach Dokuzovski has done a hell of a job up to this point. Let's see if he can muster one last championship-like effort out of his men.
Russia made the mistake of taking way too many perimeter shots when it wasn't necessary in their Semifinal loss to France. They had thrived so much on running in transition and constantly attacking the paint. David Blatt's boys just inexplicably went away from what made them very dangerous, and it costed them an automatic bid to London, their undefeated record in Lithuania, and of course the opportunity at gold. I doubt they'll make that mistake twice.
Andrei Kirilenko and Timofey Mozgov had good outings, but not the stat stuffers that were needed to overcome a supremely talented French side. Sergey Monya and Victor Khryapa each needed to provide more offensive support, but it didn't come. The French got several MVP-like performances, when Russia could barely get one out of AK47. You can tell the inexperience of some players and pressure had finally cut up to Russia.
If David Blatt can re-energize and re-focus his men, they stand a good chance of standing on that podium. If they sleepwalk out of the tunnel and into the start of the match, FYROM will run them off the court. We'll know early on what type of match we're in for. However, it's two sides that like to play a similar style. It'll be quite interesting if Russia changes up their look.
BRONZE MEDAL PREDICTION
I feel like David Blatt went for broke and this squad won't care enough for a 'measly' 3rd place. FYROM on the other hand would celebrate victory like it was first place. Also, I think Russia's confidence may still be low come tip-off.
Sunday at 2 p.m. EST
The Spaniards again got a legendary Juan Carlos Navarro performance. 'La Bomba' had that 17-point 3rd quarter in the Quarterfinals, and matched it with a 19-point ten-minute span in the Semifinal victory over FYROM. He's now all of a sudden stealing MVP votes from another teammate.
Pau Gasol doesn't look gimpy, but he's not moving anywhere close to as fluidly as he was in the group stages. He's not leading the favorites which is a large concern going into this massive finale. Marc Gasol is struggling as well coming down the finish line. Yet, they're still posting phenomenal numbers (each had double-doubles last game). Oklahoma City Thunder fans rejoice! Serge Ibaka just had by far his most impressive outing in a Spain uniform. 'Air Congo' and his unmatched physicality finally prevailed where the Gasol brothers can't, against that Samardziski-Antic front-line.
Ricky Rubio also just had his best performance in Lithuania and he would put Timberwolves fans even more at ease if he left a huge mark on this Final. He'll get his chance. Parker and De Colo will both be difficult to contain. Other than Navarro's clutchness, the key will be if Rudy Fernandez can defend and score on the likes of Gelabale and Batum. Sergio Scariolo has another golden opportunity in his hands to continue to grow his coaching legacy. Let's see if he'll dominate Coach Collet from the bench like we all anticipate will happen.
What choke artists? France has at last gotten the monkey off their backs and made it to a major tournament Final. The talent was there coming in, but you never know how cohesive and versatile a nation is until you see them in action. Coach Collet has embarrassed his doubters. Can he do it one more time? This is where swagger and attitude come in. We all know Spain are the favorites, but do the French really care about that? We'll know come tip-off.
A victory, and Tony Parker would be honored if the EuroBasket 2011 Most Valuable Player Award. There's no denying that. However, he has the likes of Nicolas Batum and Joakim Noah to thank for that. It wasn't always pretty, but France showed their control and superiority over a great Russian side.
Can Nando De Colo and Ali Traore bring the desperately needed scoring off the bench that will keep France in the match? Will Mickael Gelabale be healthy enough to provide any type of positive impact? I think this is immensely important. Gelabale was a revelation in the early part of the tournament until he got hurt. His 3-pointer shooting and defense are so solid that they can definitely tip the scales in your favor.
Will Boris Diaw wake his fat ass up? Is the McDonald's putting him in a walking coma? This is where Boris is needed most. He has to step up as a veteran where it hasn't happened up to this point. Is his fatness getting to him? Him and Florent Pietrus are definite culprits for choking in the past. Will that still be the case?
GOLD MEDAL PREDICTION
On paper, this was the dream Final the majority of basketball fans wanted coming into this EuroBasket. However, you have no clue what can happen during a 3-week period. This will be quite the showcase of NBA and Euroleague talent. I believe Spain has too much star power to lead the way. The Gasol brothers may both cruise to doubles-doubles again. Navarro and Rudy will not allow gold escape their grasps.
I actually prefer a French victory just so there's no Spaniard dynasty in a competition that thrives on parity. If France can clearly out-defend Spain though (which they're more than capable of), we're going to see a slug-fest. Win or lose, we the viewers will be victorious by fully enjoying this spectacle. It's been a hell of a EuroBasket 2011 folks, and I'm glad to see so many new people becoming fans of FIBA's competition.