Their trainer was calling for him. “We have not yet made our reference match in the tournament. Hurry up because there are only two left! », insisted Vincent Collet the day before the semi-finals of the Euro. His French men's basketball team heard him. Friday, September 16, the Blues took the best of Poland after a controlled meeting from start to finish (95-54), reaching the final of the continental competition. Sunday, the partners of Evan Fournier will face the winner of Germany-Spain there. And the French captain affirms it: “We've been saying it from the start, we didn't come here for a silver medal! »
Faced with the Cinderella of the competition, firmly determined to extend her fairy tale after her victory against the Slovenian trophy holders in the previous round, the French knew they were expected. “We have to play Poland like a semi-final of the European championship”, warned the tricolor coach. No question of looking down on an opponent certainly lacking references at the highest level – no NBA or Euroleague player – but who did not steal his place in the last four of the tournament. “We came into the game really respecting our opponent, exposes strong winger Guerschon Yabusele. We played our basketball: we were very aggressive in defense, and we shared the ball very well. »
For the Blues, the equation looked very similar, on paper, to the previous match. An opponent boosted by a victory against one of the favorites. After Italy, who defeated Serbia, Poland, defender of the outgoing Slovenian champions, found themselves on their way. But the encounter was radically different.
“We jumped down their throats”
From the first minute of play, Evan Fournier's partners defended the iron. And, after scoring the first basket of the match, the Poles struggled to keep up with the pace imposed by the Blues. "We don't have that much experience of this kind of situation", warned Polish winger Aaron Cel before the game. Aware that their opponent was a novice at this level but capable of catching fire, the Blues immediately wanted to put him under the extinguisher. “We jumped at their throats, we were very aggressive. We didn't want to let them gain confidence, and [on voulait] crush them. And that's exactly what we did.", exhibits Evan Fournier.
A strategy matured after the Polish surprise in the quarter-finals. “We had seen their match on Wednesday, where the Poles had scored 58 points in the first [période] », reveals Vincent Collet. The tricolor staff had also noted that, in the third quarter, the defensive pressure of the Slovenians had reversed the trend of the match. “Our idea was not to give them a chance in the first half; and, from the first minute, to put them under infernal pressure”continues the Norman technician, " very satisfied " of his flock.
Until this meeting, Poland scored an average of 39.9 points in the first period in this Euro. On Friday, the blue defense held the Bialo-Czerwoni ("the White and Reds", in Polish) to 18 points - the last time a team had scored less than 20 points in the semi-finals of the Euros was in 1946 edition. At the break, the Berlin Arena DJ could play That Plane For Me, by Plastic Bertrand. Like an intractable Gobert in the air (3 counterattacks, all in the first period), the French completely eclipsed their opponents. “At the end of the first period, they had the momentumand then everything seemed easier for themanalyzes the Polish coach, Igor Milicic. And everything went wrong for us. »
All the Blues involved
Conversely, the French game turned out wonderfully. With 31 assists, the Blues had a shared soul in attack. And the scale of the mark allowed the coach to put all his troops to work – all the French have also scored points. "It's a team effortinsists Rudy Gobert, proud of the state of mind of his partners. There was not a single minute with a drop in speed, and that, we had not managed to reach it since the start of the Euro. » For the French pivot, who was able to save himself at the end of the match, “every player who entered the field gave their all. This is the team we want to be, and we have to keep this state of mind for the final”.
Sunday, against Spain or Germany, the French have an appointment with their third European final since 2011 (out of five). “The opponent that will be opposed to us will be a very big team”, insists the French coach. A year after looking the Americans in the eye in the Olympic final, his troops have only one thing in mind: “We are in front of a magnificent opportunity, and we want to seize it. »
“We can be so strong”, insisted Evan Fournier earlier in the competition, sorry not to see his team use its full potential for an entire match. After the semi-final, the back of the New York Knicks savors: “I found my team! The one in whom I have 100% confidence, regardless of the adversity, that of the Olympic Games and the World Cup. It's nice to see. » For his first campaign as captain – in the absence of Nicolas Batum – and despite the ups and downs of performance, Fournier led his young troops to where they wanted to be before the start of the tournament.
The Cinderella of the Euro has been kicked out of her carriage. The Polish fairy tale will continue on Sunday, with hopes for a bronze medal. “We are going to erase this match from our memories and focus on the next one, because we are still alive”, confirms the American-Polish leader AJ Slaughter. But it is the Blues who will play the final. Aspiring to maintain the high standards they achieved against the Poles. “We have to turn the page. We start from scratch and we do the same thing again”, urges Evan Fournier. Because, if the Blues are convinced that, for them, it is time for gold after bronze at the 2019 World Cup and Olympic silver in Tokyo last year, the captain reminds us: “We still have a step to climb. »