Not even a Turkey hot start, NBA players’ struggles can stop France

Slowing down France’s top NBA players won’t necessarily mean stopping the whole Les Bleus juggernaught.

That’s exactly what Turkey coach Ergin Ataman found on Saturday night when the “12 Dev Adam” (12 Giant Men) suffered a 63-75 setback inflicted by the Les Bleus in their knockout Olympic Qualifying Tournament semifinals match at the Mall of Asia Arena, kissing on their Rio de Janeiro Olympic hopes goodbye.

France’s NBA standouts, Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and debuting Nicolas Batum, struggled from the field, combining for just eight markers on 3-of-12 shooting from the field, no thanks to Turkey’s stymieing defense.

But Les Bleus’ solid supporting cast came to the fore anew, with backups Thomas Heurtel, Antoine Diot and starting center Joffrey Lauvergne providing the killer blows along that allowed them to hold off the Turks and pave a way for an explosive finals clash with the undefeated Canadians on Sunday night.

“We got successful in stopping their NBA stars but three players found important points in the most crucial part of the game,” said Ataman, 50, referring to Huertel, Diot and Lauvergne who took turns in taking up the cudgels during Les Bleus’ repeated runs in the second half.

Heurtel banged in 12 of his team-high 17 points in the final canto while Diot racked up seven of his 10 markers after the turn, highlighted by a buzzer-beating triple at the end of third, dousing cold water on the searing Turkish fightback while restoring Les Bleus’ lead back to 10 at 53-43.

“He made a big shot and that’s very important,” said Ataman of Diot’s momentum-shifting triple that paved the way for another French onslaught where they lead by as many as 18 points midway in the final frame. “We started to play good and we closed the quarter good enough but they got that last second three-point shot.”

While the Frenchmen made seven triples, the Turks could only knock down three from 20 attempts, some of them even uncontested, leaving Ataman disappointed. “We tried to make a surprise but if you can’t score on open shots, it’s impossible to beat this kind of team,” he lamented.

Even Turkish center Omer Asik was left with plenty of what if’s as they failed to sustain a strong 13-3 start and counter the Frenchmen’s second half surge.

“We started the game really well and how we wanted. Then they figured out and they started to pressure us. We made some turnovers. In the second half, we just tried to catch them the whole time but we couldn’t figure them out,” said the New Orleans Pelicans big man. – By Jerome Lagunzad

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