LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) — Tony Parker is one win from finally guiding France to its first major basketball title.
Having scored 32 points to lead France past two-time defending champion Spain 75-72 in overtime in Friday’s semifinals at the European championship, Parker needs just one more big performance when his team plays Lithuania for the gold medal on Sunday.
He was in the same position two years ago, only for his team to lose to Spain in the final.
“Now, we have to control our joy. Two years ago we were so happy for having qualified for the Olympics that we botched the final,” said Parker, the San Antonio Spurs star guard.
By beating Spain, France finally overcame an opponent that has long dominated Parker’s talented generation. France had a 5-19 record against Spain going into the semifinal, including the loss in the 2011 final and at last year’s Olympic quarterfinals in London.
France has two silvers and five bronze medals at the European championships — and had it not been for the gifted Spanish generation, it probably would have won the gold, too.
“We’ve been coming closer and we want the best medal now,” Parker said.
While Parker is the team’s leader, he is not the only talented player — he’s one of six NBA players on the French roster that includes Boris Diaw and Nicolas Batum.
Parker tops France with 19.7 points per game and is close to a tournament record — he needs 21 points in the final to become the tournament’s all-time leading scorer. By taking his total to 984 points, he passed Dirk Nowitzki by one and is 20 behind Nikos Galis.
France came back after trailing by 14 and being dominated by Spain in the first half, wearing down the Spaniards in the second half and overcoming 19 points from Marc Gasol — whose brother Pau is not playing this time.
France coach Vincent Collet said his team is in a better shape than two years ago.
“We are in a completely different state of mind,” Collet said.
Lithuania has long been a European basketball power, but was considered a bit of a long shot after getting eliminated in the quarterfinals at home two years ago.
But it proved the doubters wrong by beating Croatia 77-62 in the semifinal to reach its first final since winning its third title in 2003.
“We are proud of this team. When we started preparations many people were talking bad about us, they were saying that this team can do nothing here,” Lithuania coach Jonas Kazlauskas said. “But now we have found our rhythm and we are in the final.”
Lithuania likes a fast game, complemented by outside scorers Jonas Maciulis, Linas Kleiza and Mantas Kalnietis, who combined to outscore Croatia in the semifinal.
Center Jonas Valanciunas is a big presence under the basket.
“It is important for us, for our generation, now that most of the older guys have left the team, our generation has proved that we can play basketball and represent Lithuania, too,” Maciulis said.