In a thriller on Thursday, France forged a dream final with Team USA in the men’s basketball competition at the Tokyo Olympics after squeaking past Slovenia, 90-89. Nicolas Batum’s block in the dying seconds preserved the win for the Frenchmen, who handed NBA superstar Luka Doncic his first loss in Slovenian colors.
Slovenia’s Klemen Prepelic thought he had sealed his country’s first-ever basketball medal in the Olympics when he drove in for a wide-open layup with time winding down in the semifinal and France leading by just one point. Batum had other ideas, though, as the Los Angeles Clippers star came from behind to swat away Prepelic’s go-ahead basket and seal France’s berth in the gold medal match.
Doncic records triple-double in a losing effort
It was a disappointing defeat for Doncic, who entered Thursday’s clash with France with an impeccable record of 17-0 when playing for the Slovenian national team. He did his best to preserve his unbeaten slate on the international stage, scoring 16 points, dishing out 18 assists, and grabbing ten rebounds to record just the third triple-double in Olympic history. It is also the first since LeBron James accomplished the feat for Team USA in the 2012 London Games.
The game lived up to the hype, with both teams leaving it all on the floor to seal that dream gold medal matchup with the United States. Slovenia started strongly, leading by as much as eight points in the first quarter before settling for a 29-27 advantage entering the second period.
Scoring dried up for both countries in the second quarter, with France and Slovenia recording just 15 points apiece during that period of play. Doncic already was on his way to a triple-double during the opening half, recording 12 points, eight assists, and seven rebounds by halftime.
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France edges past Slovenia in back-and-forth final quarter
France turned the tide in the third quarter, however, outscoring Slovenia 29-21 to build a 71-65 lead entering the payoff period. The fourth quarter was a tense affair, with both teams trading runs. Slovenia opened the final period with a 5-0 run to cut France’s lead to just one point and eventually tied the game at 78 midway through the fourth quarter.
Momentum swung France’s way after Slovenia complained of a missed goaltending call that would have given them a two-point lead. They were called for a technical, which France converted before Nando De Colo buried a three-pointer to stretch the lead to 82-78.
Slovenia responded, though, unleashing a 7-3 run to knot the game again at 85. France answered back yet again, with Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot capping a 5-0 blast with a huge 3-point bomb with 56.1 seconds remaining to give France a 90-85 lead. Slovenia won’t quit, though, with Prepelic scoring the next four points to slice the deficit to one.
France missed the ensuing possession, setting the stage for the dramatic finale. Doncic opted not to play hero ball in the dying seconds, giving the ball to Prepelic, whose go-ahead layup was spectacularly denied by Batum.
Apart from Batum, De Colo and Evan Fournier also starred for France in the win, combining for 48 points in the semifinal victory against Slovenia.
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