Groping for form during his debut in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament on Saturday night was the least of top French wingman Nicolas Batum’s concerns.
The 6-foot-8 Batum struggled but his Les Bleus teammates, led by backup guard Thomas Heurtel, rose to the occasion anew as they turned back familiar rival Turkey 75-63 at the Mall of Asia Arena and kept themselves in the hunt for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics ticket up for grabs.
The Charlotte Hornets wingman played as the starting small forward but could only score three points—all from the charity stripe—aside from two assists and two steals against a lone turnover in 21 minutes of play, still trying to get his rhythm back after sitting out in the Les Bleus’ two-match campaign in the preliminary round.
Good thing for Batum, the likes of Heurtel, fellow shock troopers Antonie Diot and Mickael Gelabale made their presence felt notably in the second half, allowing France to keep Turkey at bay and eventually forge what promises to be an explosive finals showdown with Canada on Sunday night.
“All the players we got off the bench were huge for us,” said Batum, clearly aware of the Les Bleus’ decisive 42-18 edge in bench support. “Last game, they won the game for us. Tonight they were huge again.”
And that explains why Batum was hardly worried with his own struggles. “I just need one game just to get the feeling back and get into my rhythm. I didn’t force anything tonight. I just wanted to help the team as much as I can,” he said.
Up next for the Frenchmen are the Canadians, who dispatched New Zealand 78-72 in the other semis pairing.
“It’s gonna be a huge game,” stressed Batum, already anticipating a grind-it-out affair with their finals rivals led by fellow NBA stars Tristan Thompson of the reigning NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors guard Corey Joseph.
“They are an athletic team, a young team with a great coach. They got guys who can rebounds and have good guards who like to play very fast,” added the French forward. “It will be a tough game for us.” – By Jerome Lagunzad
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