Friday, Sept. 16, 2011
Posted: 11:43 a.m. Updated: 3:12 p.m.
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It's not quite dj vu for Joakim Noah, but nobody would blame him for feeling as if he's in a similar situation to the one he and the Bulls were in this past spring. After dispatching Russia, 79-70, Noah's France squad will take on tournament favorite Spain, equipped with star power not dissimilar to the NBA's Miami Heat -- at least as far as international basketball goes -- in the EuroBasket gold-medal game Sunday in Lithuania.
Noah contributed seven points and eight rebounds to France's win, but as astute Bulls fans know, the center's value is often worth more than what the box score says. As usual, France was paced in scoring by Spurs guard Tony Parker, who had 22 points, while Trail Blazers wing Nicolas Batum added 19, to go along with a well-rounded seven boards, four assists and two blocked shots. Russia was led by Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko's 21 points and Nuggets center Timofey Mozgov chipped in with 12 points for a team coached by American David Blatt, the head coach of the famed Israeli franchise Maccabi Tel Aviv and one of the most lauded professional coaches not in the NBA.
Although Spain struggled with lightly-regarded Macedonia -- led by New Orleans native Bo McCalebb, a star point guard in Europe -- throughout much of Friday's first semifinal, their talent was too much to overcome for the upstart squad. Lakers big man Pau Gasol came up with 22 points and 17 rebounds, while his brother Marc, the Grizzlies' center, added a double-double of his own (11 points, 10 rebounds), but they were carried by former NBA guard Juan Carlos Navarro, who scored 35 points.
The embarrassment of riches on Spain's roster is also quantified by the likes of Thunder forward Serge Ibaka (a native of the Congo, but a naturalized Spaniard, due to playing professionally in the country prior to making the jump to the NBA; he contributed 11 points Friday), Raptors point guard Jose Calderon, Mavericks swingman Rudy Fernandez and 2009 Timberwolves draft pick Ricky Rubio, who is expected to make his NBA debut next season, whenever that is. Rubio, in particular, has struggled in the event, marking a downward spiral for the point guard prodigy -- he's been playing professionally since his early teens -- since his impressive performance in the 2008 Olympics, in which he played beyond his years against future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd and All-Stars Chris Paul and Deron Williams in Spain's championship game loss to gold-medalist USA.
Getting back to France, Noah, who scored five points and snatched eight boards -- as well as coming up with a key steal late -- in France's quarterfinal win over Greece Thursday, must be a force on the glass and on defense, but the bulk of the scoring responsibility for France rests upon the shoulders of Parker, the leading scorer still playing in the tournament (Bulls small forward Luol Deng was the leader in that category, but his Great Britain squad exited after the first round) and to a lesser extent, Batum. France also boasts the likes of Bobcats forward Boris Diaw, Wizards big man Kevin Seraphin and former NBA swingman Mikael Gelebale on its roster, but Diaw has been inconsistent, Seraphin is inexperienced and Gelebale has been nursing a recent injury.
It's not the NBA, but unless you''re in Las Vegas for Impact Basketball's Competitive Training Series (in which Bulls backup point guard C.J. Watson is competing; former NBA coach and player John Lucas recently announced plans for a similar event in Houston) or up for a trip to one of the exhibition games later this month in New York, Philadelphia or Indianapolis, this is as close as one will get. International basketball might not have the same on-court excitement fans are used to, but the national pride, passion and importance of the games--trips to the Olympics are on the line--make it fun to watch.
Are you a diehard fan who takes your basketball any way you can get it, especially with a key Bulls player like Noah involved? Or are you preoccupied with the NFL or college football and putting the NBA on hold until the lockout is over?
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.