In his first showing with the French men’s senior national basketball team, the Orlando Magic’s Evan Fournier has won a bronze medal at the FIBA World Cup having defeated Lithaunia 95-93 on Saturday in the 3rd Place Game. It was a thrilling rematch of the 2013 EuroBasket Final that transformed into a free throw duel at the finish. France follows up gold at last year’s EuroBasket with their first ever medal at the FIBA World Cup. Nicolas Batum led France with 27 points while Jonas Valanciunas led his Lithuanian side with 25 points. Fournier would only play 16 minutes – sitting out the entire fourth period – as he finished with 4 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 assist on 0-for-4 shooting (0-of-1 on 3s). As with many of Evan’s games in Spain, Fournier’s impact is larger than the statistics indicate.
Below is details of the contest.
Lithuania may have had an extra day of rest than France, but it was Lithuania’s first time playing in Madrid having been in Barcelona for their previous knockout games. Fournier checked in with France up 7-5 at the 5:29 mark. Evan missed his first attempt, a 3-pointer from the left side. Fournier Vdid a decent job of guarding former Duke Blue Devil Martynas Pocius. Evan would drive up the middle for a nice lefty dish down to Antoine Diot for an easy baseline bucket. A Nicolas Batum 3-pointer to beat the buzzer put France up 22-19 after one period. No signs of French fatigue considering their Semifinals match occurred 18 hours prior to tip-off of this 3rd Place Game.
Evan would sit to begin the second period but checked back in at the 4:23 mark of the first half with the French up 34-32 as Batum and Joffrey Lauvergne were performing fantastically. Fournier would force Pocius into fouling him on a right to left drive into the paint. The 6’6″ guard would make both free throws. It was intriguing seeing massive centers Jonas Valanciunas and Rudy Gobert take up an enormous amount of space around the rim with their physicality.
Fournier would sit with 1:24 until halftime having tallied 4 points on 1-for-2 shooting with a rebound and an assist in 8 minutes. Or so I thought. FIBA would take Evan’s field goal make away and award it to Gobert for a questionable putback. The French led 43-42 at the break. Lithuania’s 22-13 rebounding advantage is what kept the contest close. They had more offensive rebounds (12) than France had defensive (11). Valanciunas led his side with 12 points while Batum (13 points) and Lauvergne (11 points) paced France.
Evan checked in at the 8-minute mark with the French down 47-46 as Lithuania was making their perimeter shots. Gobert picked a bad time in the tourney to struggle on both ends of the court. Lithuania began to bury the French with numerous 3-pointers while fatigue started setting in for France and their offense stalled. Evan did a nice job of penetrating the paint and earning free throws. In transition, Evan would get up a tough righty banking floater over two Lithuanians which allowed Florent Pietrus to fly in and get the putback finish. Evan ended the third period with a difficult buzzer beating one-footed turnaround jumper off an offensive rebound that didn’t fall. France trailed 71-64 entering the last ten-minute session. Lithuania were 5-for-7 on 3-pointers in the third period.
Fournier opened the fourth quarter on the bench, and never reentered the contest. Coach Collet preferred an Antoine Diot and Florent Pietrus wing rotation off the bench. Thanks to some NBA-like plays from Batum and Diaw, France took a 77-75 lead with 4:34 remaining. Great comeback for Les Bleus. Valanciunas wouldn’t give in though as he’d score five straight points as he had his way with Gobert, Lauvergne, and Diaw. France again held the advantage, 82-80 with 1:27 left, after Diaw completed a ridiculous shake that Hakeem Olajuwon would have loved. Lithuania was dominating the boards in the first 3 periods, only to give up the result by letting France out-rebound them when it mattered most in crunch time.
The French would prevail in the end after Valanciunas missed several attempts at the rim followed by yet another impressive Diaw drive and basket. It was all part of a 9-0 French run. All that was left was converting on free throws (which Thomas Heurtel almost blew) and playing adequate enough defense. Lithuania actually got within 1 before French decided not to choke the contest away. All with Evan and his benched teammates looking beyond nervous. It was a lengthy amount of free throws for both squads in that last minute of play that took about 20 minutes to complete. Congratulations on your first FIBA World Cup medal, Evan and France.
Click above for Fournier’s tourney stats. Even though Evan didn’t personally have the best conclusion to his tournament, we know Fournier had a massive role in getting the French to this accomplishment. In 9 games, Fournier averaged 6.9 ppg, 1.3 rpg, and 1.2 apg on 38.5 FG%, 68.2 FT%, and 24.1 3PT% at 15 minutes per contest. The 6.9 points per game were the 5th-highest on the roster. As has been documented numerous times, Evan managed to have a great tournament despite struggling with his 3-point shot (7-for-29) as Nicolas Batum’s SG backup. Fournier’s best games would come against Iran in the last Group A game, Croatia in the Round of 16, and against Serbia in the Semifinals.
Evan’s defense was a revelation of great habits that the Magic coaching staff can certainly utilize as well as his floor spacing and court vision versatility. I expect Fournier’s role under Coach Vincent Collet to grow heading into EuroBasket 2015, a tournament in which France hosts the final round. I would expect guys like Tony Parker and Joakim Noah to participate. Evan will head back to Orlando and rest up for 2 weeks before Magic training camp begins. This international experience should give the 6’6″ wing an abundance of confidence. Evan will have his opportunity to be the Magic’s starting shooting guard come Opening Night.
Adam Papageorgiou is Owner/Editor of MBO and Founder of Orlando Magic Greek