If you thought the idea of a third-place game was bad, wait til you see a fifth-place game! Germany and Serbia played in the most structured exhibition game of all time. Both teams were all smiles and enjoying the achievement of making the Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Sure, nothing would discourage Serbia from full-court pressing, but there wasn’t much gusto in this game. It was a nice encapsulation of what success was to the smaller basketballing nations and I’m glad I got a good seat, a free panini and a long black to enjoy it with.
France defeats Hungary 82-68 (box score)
Don’t worry, I’m not actually going to talk about this game, it’s included on more of a technicality. Basketball is huge in France and is only just gaining traction in Hungary. The fact that they were sharing the court for the third-place match is a testament to the investment Hungary has made in basketball. In a vacuum, Spain, France, Belgium and Serbia would have been expected as the final four going into the tournament. The fact that Hungary has wedged their name in there and belongs at this juncture of EuroBasket is a great sign for the nation and for the overall product of basketball.
France was fantastic. Through all of their games they were class, even in their semi-final defeat against Belgium. Fans around the world should rejoice at how France goes about their basketball. They let their game do the talking and will continue to be a world power with the big brown orange.
Belgium defeats Spain 64-58 (box score)
Spain’s semi-final saw them get 43 points from their two highest scorers, with a ten-point scorer following them and subsidiary points from the rest of the squad bringing them to a total of 69. Belgium’s semi-final saw them get 42 points from their two highest scorers, with a ten-point scorer following them and subsidiary points from the rest of the squad bringing them to a total of 67. Scoring around the edges was going to be key in a matchup that boasts two impenetrable defensive juggernauts.
In Spain’s semi-final, they were never really able to build on their early lead even coming up against a team as inexperienced as Hungary. This could be seen as cause for concern in the final, sure. It could also be seen as an uncanny ability to play for the win. Even though Hungary brought the game to within three, Spain were never at risk of giving up the lead. They found baskets any time they needed them and they repeatedly got stops. They got the lead and then played the win to perfection.
In Belgium’s semi-final, they got out to a sizeable lead in the first half and spent the second fighting off the French run. They got taken out of their game which could be seen as a cause for concern in the final, sure. They were also able to grit out the win even with France having all of the momentum. They found baskets any time they needed them and never gave up the lead late.
Both teams were able to find a win in a semi-final which brings pressure of its own: that has to count for something.
The game EuroBasket was building towards was finally underway. Kyara Linskens won the tip but Alba Torrens took possession: it was on from the very beginning. Torrens struck first but Emma Meesseman wasted no time in matching. The first time-out was called by Belgium after an early 12-6 lead for Spain, with Meesseman accounting for all Belgian six. The Spanish were in total control, dictating a lot of the flow defensively. Belgium were able to go make-stop-make (with the stop being a shot clock violation) and the game was being played on Belgium’s terms, even if only for a moment.
17-13 Spain to start the second as Belgium saw themselves behind at the first break for the first time all EuroBasket. Julie Allemand checked out of the game with 8:39 left in the second with three turnovers already to her name. Just a minute later, the turnover count was 8-3 in favour of the Spanish and those extra possessions had been the difference so far. A time-out halfway through the second had Spain up 24-18 and coming out of the huddle Belgium’s defence was still getting moved with ease. Back and forth the rest of the half went and fans had themselves a game worthy of a final. A Maite Cazorla three late in the term buffed out the lead to represent Spain’s early dominance a little more clearly.
Belgium was going to need a different ball game in the second half, with a 32-25 scoreboard and 13-7 turnover count both out of their favour. Spain was doing the same stuff as their semi-final. Sure, Belgium is a far more talented, well-coached and experienced team than Hungary, but the constant is that Spain is playing their game. They don’t need to blow anyone out, they just need the lead and to suffocate their opponents. Mixing things up and making every pass difficult earned them a nice cushion to start the third.
The cushion remained early in the half with Spain causing headaches with more Belgian turnovers. Belgium cut it to four but as they do, the Spanish found an answer when they needed one, this time a Queralt Casas three-ball. Spain was forcing this game to be played in mud and the scoreboard looked stuck but the game clock was speeding up. Belgium cut the lead to three and Leonor Rodriguez was the answer this time, bringing things out to 40-34. The end of the third saw Spain up 48-43, with the turnover count still in their favour, 18-8. Belgium only had four players on the score sheet so far, while Spain had seven.
Seven seconds into the fourth and Belgium had thrown their 19th turnover. 50 seconds in and they had their 20th. A Kyara Linskens three prompted on a challenge from Spanish coach Miguel Mendez; unsuccessful, 52-48 Spain. For the first time since their first game Spain didn’t find the answer; 52-50. After a two-point battle for a few minutes, Emma was left wide open for a three; 55-54 BELGIUM. Alba Torrens had absolutely no space on a jimmy yet still; 56-55 Spain. Meesseman to the line and splits them; 56s. Holy fuckamoly, you’d hate to miss it. 170 seconds to go and we’re even.
Meesseman found Linskens cutting to the key and they got their first assist going towards the cup in what felt like all game; 58-56 Belgium. Meesseman wide open from the same spot as before AND; misses, scoreboard stood. Time out Spain with 1:26 and Mendez was livid. Meesseman fouled on a rebound and Belgium was in the bonus; 60-56. It was free throws for both teams the rest of the way and a Spain time-out with 28.6 set the scene for a classic finish. After a miss and a heavy heaping of contact seeking from the Spanish they had no success and who was going to the line for Belgium? Meesseman of course; 62-56. Vanloo sent Torrens to the line with 4.7 and she iced them; 62-58 Belgium and a time from them too. Vanloo freebies with 4.0 and you can’t beat a six-point lead with no time-outs.
24 points for EuroBasket 2023 MVP Emma Meesseman and she was doing everything down the stretch. Belgium was fantastic all tournament long. You’d be crazy if you weren’t happy for them. A finish fitting for the event that preceded it, what a display of basketball the last eleven days have been.