Each of the two Eurobasket 2022 semifinals features a pre-tournament favourite and an underdog on an exceptional run. In the first of Friday’s matchups (4:15pm UK) in Berlin, a France side loaded with NBA talent takes on a Polish squad that’s risen to the occasion in this tournament.
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Eurobasket 2022’s final four clash on Friday in Berlin, with spots in Sunday’s final at stake. Friday’s action in Berlin tips off with a matchup between ultra-talented but underachieving France, and a resilient Polish side.
At a glance, this is a mismatch. The French are led by three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, a pair of solid NBA wings (Evan Fournier and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot), and a Real Madrid star with NBA experience of his own, Guerschon Yabusele. Poland, meanwhile, is bereft of household names. Nonetheless, both sides have had, essentially, the same experiences in this tournament.
France won three of its first four games in Group B. However, a loss in the finale against Slovenia dropped them to third in the group. Similarly, Poland entered the last round of Group D contests in second but, after a blowout loss to Serbia, also fell to third. The subsequent knockout stages have been a thrill ride for both sides.
In the round of 16, the French needed a fourth quarter comeback against Turkey to force the game into overtime, tied at 77. In that extra quarter, thanks to Gobert’s defense and the last of his 20 points and 17 rebounds, they pulled out an 87-86 win. It was an eerily similar story in the quarterfinals against Italy, where France battled back from a six-point deficit after three quarters to force overtime… incredibly, with the game once again tied at 77. The sailing was smoother in the extra period this time around, as France outscored Italy 16-8, and ultimately cruised to a 93-85 win.
Poland, meanwhile, met Ukraine in the round of 16. After trailing at halftime by three points, the Poles put together an excellent second half on both ends and, led by naturalised American A.J. Slaughter’s 24 points and 22 points, nine rebounds and six assists from Reggio Emilia’s 29-year-old star Mateusz Ponitka, won the game by eight points. In the quarters against heavily favoured Slovenia, Poland excelled defensively, namely in holding superstar Luka Dončić to just 14 points. In the end, a combined 38 points from NBA veteran Goran Dragić and Denver Nuggets prospect Vlatko Čancar was not enough to offset another incredible performance from Pontika, who had 26 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists in the three-point win. What was exceptional about that game is that, while the first and fourth quarters were extremely close, Poland clobbered Slovenia in the second quarter to the tune of 29-13, only to take similar blow on the chin in the third, when Slovenia routed them 24-6.
As it has been all tournament, it’s tempting to look at the star-studded French and assume that, even in the absence of their best, they’ll be able to simply ‘out-talent’ a group of upstarts. They are certainly capable of it, and may well do just that. However, given the resilience of this Polish side, even if the French are victorious, it’s tough to see this game ending in a blowout. Look for the Poles to keep the game in single digits, and thus cover the 9.5-point spread.