He closed the lid of the boiling pressure cooker. With both hands more than three meters high, Rudy Gobert recovered a shot missed by captain Evan Fournier to crush him in the circle and give France a decisive lead. Then, with a second to go, the French center made two free throws, silencing the more than two thousand Lithuanian fans in front of him. At the end of a very demanding game, the French men’s basketball team beat Lithuania on Saturday, September 3 in Cologne (77-73), two days after missing the debut in the competition against Germany.
“When you start with a loss, the second game, you want to react. Especially when your goal is to go far in the competition.explains coach Vincent Collet, interviewed after the match. This was our case, but also that of the Lithuanians. » And for the first five minutes of the match, France looked like the uninspired team that lost to the Germans on Thursday (63-76). “We started very badly. acknowledges the French coach. But we did not give up. We raised our defensive level and were more patient in attack. »
Renewed, due to the absence of several directors -including the bartenders Nicolás Batum and Nando De Colo-, his French team lacked a clear hierarchy from the beginning of the preparation. And as the game progressed, like Terry Tarpey, the team’s surprise starter on Saturday, several players seemed to find a place for him. “After our unsuccessful start, from the second part of the first quarter, we felt that collectively we were increasing the pressure, that we were no longer the same team.salutes Vincent Collet, highlighting entries from center Moustapha Fall and leader Andrew Albicy, two team executives since 2019 who have missed most of prep due to injuries.
“A monstrous team defensively”
Offering a rallying point inside, facing NBA pairing Jonas Valanciunas – Domantas Sabonis, Fall allows the French not to see the gap widen too much while the Balts look overwrought – and carried away by their fans in the fusion, “the best audience in Europe”, Evan Fournier greeted. “I tried to bring back the energy and toughness.says the pivot. Because that’s what we were missing, especially with interiors like that trying to wear us down. »
For his part, resuming his role as watchdog, Andrew Albicy harassed the rival leaders, and behind him, the entire French team raised their voices in defense. If the Blues have conceded 21 points in the first seven minutes, they will only concede 52 in the remaining 33 minutes. “The French were very physical, and forced them to make many mistakes”recognizes the Baltic coach, Kazys Maksvytis. “This is the team we want to be.says Rudy Gobert. A monstrous team defensively, because it is with this level of intensity that we can achieve our goals. »
On the other side of the field, the Blues took charge of the ball, in the intense one-on-one between the two teams. “Even when we were in trouble, we continued to play basketball. We were much more serene in adversity.relish trainer Vincent Collet. “And then Evan marked the i’s early on in terms of taking responsibility. »
Captain of the Blues, Evan Fournier had been singled out after the game against Germany for a poor offensive result. “We want to play better, meet each other, because we are looking for each other a bit at the moment”the New York Knicks player had assumed on Friday, saying the Blues “upset” with his opening performance. His response on Saturday was blunt: twenty-seven points and relentless aggressiveness on both sides of the field. “He’s relaxed, he’s aggressive and that’s what we need”Moustapha Fall summed up at the break.
Confirmation expected on Sunday against Hungary
“He made Evan Fourniersums up his great friend Rudy Gobert. He made his shots, he was aggressive and he knew how to keep us in the game when it was a little harder. He played fair, he let the game come to him. » Designated man of the match, the interested party claims to have wanted “Help the team to play better, and that’s what happened”highlighting again the help of a team in the direction of travel. “When a team looks for itself, we don’t know which direction it’s going. » He hopes his Blues have found their compass.
“Even more than victory, manner counts a lot tonight”Evan Fournier insists. On the bench at the end of the third quarter, to breathe a little before the end of the game, the French captain savored the score of his teammates: “I told myself ‘There we are’, like in the last competitions”. the French team with which he won a bronze medal at the 2019 World Cup and a silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics; one whose defensive energy – “We have to be dogs from beginning to end”, Gobert imagined – it seems capable of eroding mountains.
“What day is it today, September 3? We can say that it works, as a date for a birth certificate»smiles Rudy Gobert. It probably won’t be the first day of the rest of their lives, but Saturday’s victory has some foundation for the French basketball players. “For us, the real start of the European Championship is now,” concludes Vincent Collet, remembering that the road is still long and dangerous. “We don’t forget where we were on Thursday night”.
Before continuing, their troops will have to confirm on Sunday against Hungary (8:30 p.m., on Canal + 360) -presumably the weakest rival in the group-. “You have to install this intensity not only one afternoon, but throughout the European Championship”insists Fournier. Afloat again, the Blues submerged the green tide; but they are still far from touching the ground.
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