The Japan men’s national basketball team finished its friendlies with ANOTHER big win over ANOTHER western European country that is a perennial participant in EuroBasket. Earlier this afternoon (in Japanese time), they defeated ... France (!!!!) the No. 7 team in the world, 81-75 in Saitama.
Rui Hachimura scored 19 points in this game on 7-of-15 shooting (link in Japanese) while Toronto Raptors forward Yuta Watanabe (who also went to college at George Washington) added 18 points on 6-of-13 shooting. Hachimura also added 7 rebounds and 2 assists while playing just under 29 minutes. You can watch the highlights in the video above.
The first half of this game made it seem like Les Bleus would be hunted down like the Belgian Lions were as they raced to a 46-30 halftime lead. Along the way the Japanese held the French to just 37.5 percent shooting and dominated the paint, 22-14. Yes, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (11 points) was there. And so were Los Angeles Clippers forward Nicolas Batum (10 points) and Boston Celtics guard Evan Fournier (16 points). All three were playing considerable minutes (around 25 each)
In the third quarter, France got back to playing more like the way most expected before tip-off. They shot 56.3 percent from the field and held the Japanese to 35.7 percent shooting to cut the lead down to just 3. It was 61-58 to start the fourth.
The French continued to out-shoot the Japanese in the fourth 46.2 percent vs. 38.5 percent. However, Japan made the decisive run in the first minute and a half, going on a 9-0 run to begin the period and take a 70-58 lead. France didn’t even take a shot in that time. In fact, they turned the ball over twice during that run.
How should we take this friendly? Either way you look at it, beating France is a big feat. The Japanese were able to strike first and still make additional runs after the French countered with runs of their own.
However, we also have to take into account France’s preparation for the game. They are probably feeling a bit anxious because they lost both of their previous friendlies to Spain on July 8 in Malaga and July 10 in Paris. The loss to Japan is their third and final loss before their Olympic group stage games begin, starting with the United States on July 25.
According to Julien Guérineau in an article from the Fédération Française de Basketball (link in French), the team was also not fully prepared to this point due to jet lag and lack of practice. Some players, like Batum, have only played two games with the Olympic squad because of the NBA Playoffs, though he said in the piece that the team will not “use excuses” for their poor performance so far.
Japan begins its Olympic group stage games on July 26 against Spain.