Spain and France have dominated European basketball, and the two powerhouses squared off just weeks before the Olympic Games.
When the Spanish and French met in a friendly game on July 15, Spain won by a narrow margin of five points, and both teams demonstrated how they will be attacking their opponents in London.
The Spanish won the game through a combination of defense and inside scoring.
With a frontcourt of Serge Ibaka, Marc and Pau Gasol, the team was expected to dominate inside, and they did so.
Ibaka led the team in scoring with 22 points, and Pau Gasol followed him up with 16. Both men also grabbed 10 rebounds and finished with a double-double.
Ibaka and the elder Gasol led the team inside since Marc Gasol did not play, but they were far from the team's only assets inside.
Spain dominated the glass, outrebounding France 46-26, not giving the French many extra chances. By owning the paint they gave themselves a huge edge, which led to their victory.
Jose-Manuel Calderon led the Spanish attack, and finished with an impressive seven assists, since Juan-Carlos Navarro played less than six minutes during the game.
Sergio Llull also stepped up with nine points and two assists, not to mention some great defense.
The Spanish proved that their game centers around playing well inside, and dominating the glass. While their guards will play a big role because they can't allow opponents to run all over them, their strength is clearly inside.
The French team could not be any more different.
The French rely heavily on guards like Tony Parker and Kevin Seraphin. These two led the team in scoring with 11 and 12 points respectively. Parker also led the team with five assists.
The team could not go inside apart from giving Ronny Turiaf the ball, and launched threes to try to pull away. However, the French only shot 4-of-23 from behind the arc, thanks to the tight Spanish defense that we first saw on July 10.
While the French utilized their superior guards to rack up 10 steals to just three by the Spanish. They scored heavily in transition thanks to forcing these turnovers, but they struggled to score in the half-court set.
This strategy turned out to hurt the French National team, as they failed to take advantage of the absence of the younger Gasol, and could not score in transition.
From seeing how these two play we can see that a Spanish team that lacked two of its stars can still be a formidable opponent in the paint.
We also learned that the French love to run and shoot threes, but they can be disrupted.
After seeing such a dominant performance from Spain in the paint, I have to give the clear edge to them. While allowing 10 steals is alarming, that number will come down once Navarro is back to his usual self.
Spain proved once more that they are clearly the best team in Europe, and have a chance to win gold at the Olympics.
For full stats to the game, click here.
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