In his most high-profile cheerleading role yet, Willy Hernangómez will watch from the bench today as Spain faces France at the EuroBasket semifinals (3 p.m. ET on NBATV).
Willy registered a DNP in Spain's 73-71 quarterfinal win over Greece. You should expect the same today. Pau Gasol will likely play 30-plus minutes as he attempts to carry Spain past Tony Parker, Rudy Gobert and France.
Gasol has been a monster at EuroBasket. He leads the tournament in points (23.6) and blocks (2.1), while also pulling down eight rebounds and dishing three assists per game. He's doing his usual damage in the post and punishing teams on pick-and-pops, hitting 75 percent of his attempts from the short FIBA three-point line.
He will also be relatively well-rested. There is about 48 hours of down-time between the final buzzer against Greece and tip-off versus France. That's a welcome change from the five-games-in-six-days grind of the group stage.
Spain will need peak Gasol to reach the gold-medal game.
France is the favorite at EuroBasket and deservedly so. They are the defending champions, the tournament hosts, and their roster is loaded with NBA talent (Parker, Gobert, Boris Diaw, Nic Batum, Joffrey Lauvergne and Evan Fournier).
They also have the perfect team to exploit Spain's glaring weaknesses.
Spain has been one of the worst defensive teams at EuroBasket, giving up 78.3 points per game and doing just enough offensively (85.9 PPG) to stay alive.
Their perimeter defense is terrible. They struggle to defend pick-and-rolls and contain dribble penetration. Athletic wings can get to the basket at will, and outside of Gasol, there is no rim-protection on the roster.
Parker and Nando De Colo (CSKA Moscow) will have no problem getting into the paint. When they do, they can finish, kick out to open shooters or force Gasol to help, freeing Gobert and Lauvergne to feast on open dunks.
France should also have plenty of second-chance opportunities. Giannis Antetokounmpo pulled down eight offensive rebounds against Spain on Tuesday. France, with all their length and athleticism, can torment them in a similar fashion.
For Spain to have a chance, they need big games from Nikola Mirotic and Felipe Reyes. They also need their perimeter players — Sergio Rodriguez, Sergio Llull, Rudy Fernandez and Pau Ribas — to punish the French defenders when they collapse on Gasol.
And of course, they need a near-perfect game from their superstar. If Gasol gets into foul trouble or if Gobert holds him to less than 20 points, Spain is completely screwed.
Tip-off is at 3:00 p.m. ET
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