Foul trouble nearly derailed Frank Ntilikina and France against Lithuania, but Rudy Gobert’s late heroics would rule the day.
Frank Ntilikina was not at his best on Saturday. The French point guard fell victim to foul trouble and failed to conjure up any offense during his worst performance of the 2019 FIBA World Cup.
The New York Knicks guard failed to impress, but his French teammates held the rope during the last five minutes of the game. Despite their early exit, Lithuania is no slouch. France needed a bit of luck to secure the win, but there’s no crying over spilled milk—or missed goaltending calls.
Ntilikina’s aggressiveness on defense is part of what makes him so effective. With his length, savvy, and athleticism, Ntilikina is one of France’s best defenders.
But on Saturday, Ntilikina was goaded into some cheap fouls and his impact on the game was hindered by that rampant foul trouble.
With all that said, Ntilikina is supposed to be a defensive stopper. His job is to slow down the ball at the point of attack and being aggressive is the only way to do that effectively.
In a game where each player is only afforded five fouls, it’s not surprising to see Ntilikina find his way into foul trouble against a strong Lithuanian side.
His defense wasn’t terrible, but it’s difficult to have a significant impact on the game from the bench. Moreover, Nando De Colo and Andrew Albicy both played solid minutes in the second half.
Final Five Minutes
Lithuania erased a 17-point second-half lead and actually held the upper hand over France in the final five minutes. Rudy Gobert had four fouls and the French were choosing to keep the best defensive player in the world on the bench.
Without Gobert on the floor, Lithuania favored one of the most simple plays you’ll ever see. Jonas Valunciunas and Domantas Sabonis started playing a high-low game to take advantage of their size advantage. Although Lithuania bailed out France with some missed shots, this high-low action was causing major problems for the French defense.
Sabonis seals his defender for solid position and without a dynamic shot blocker like Gobert, all he needs is a dump down pass into the post for an easy bucket.
However, France head coach Vincent Collet knew exactly what was needed to stop this elementary action—Rudy Gobert. Yes, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year stifled the high-low action and effectively shut down Lithuania’s go-to play. It’s shocking, I know.
While Vincent Poirier is a solid defender, Gobert is the cream of the crop. Lithuania tried to go to the well one too many times. Gobert knew they were looking for Sabonis on that right side block and used his length to blow up the play. That’s next-level awareness from Gobert.
Sabonis had Batum beat and this play had two points—or at least two free throws—written all over it.
While Gobert was controlling the game on the defensive end, Evan Fournier and Nando De Colo were knocking down crunch-time buckets.
Fournier has quickly become France’s go-to guy in big spots. The shooting guard has tremendous touch and his floater over the outstretched arms of a Lithuanian defender in the final minute could end up being one of the best shots of the World Cup.
France deserved this win. They jumped out to an early lead and weathered a second-half storm from the Lithuanians. However, there was a questionable call that left the Lithuanians fuming after the game. On a Valunciunas missed free throw, Gobert clearly hits the rim and should have been called for goaltending.
Even with the FIBA rules, that’s an egregious missed call. Lithuania has a right to be angry, but that’s the way life works sometimes. The Lithuanians were on the right side of a few calls as the game went on. The Gobert goaltending is just magnified because of the timing of the play.
France will play Australia on Monday for supremacy of the group. The winner will likely play the Czech Republic or Greece, while the loser is staring down a matchup against Team USA.