Dragic-led rally not enough as Slovenia falls to France

Goran Dragic and Slovenia’s run in EuroBasket 2013 was finally halted.

The Suns point guard helped the host nation’s team rally in the final minutes, hitting a scooping layup and a three-pointer to help cut a 10-point deficit to four. France, led by NBA players Tony Parker and Nicolas Batum, responded, eventually pulling away for the 72-62 win.

Behind the Suns’ point guard and a raucous home crowd dressed in green, Slovenia had become one of the darling underdogs of the tournament. Big wins over international heavyweights like Spain and Italy fueled their fans, who in turn fueled their team.

Fuel turned to fumes against France, who rode Parker’s 28 points and the long-limbed defense of Batum into the semifinals, where they will face heavily favored Spain.

The majority of the French team immediately made their way toward Dragic after the game to congratulate him for his performance, acknowledging the part he played for the team and the host nation. Afterward he took the microphone to thank the arena-full of Slovenian fans for their support, which included dubbing the national team members as junaki (heroes), a nickname that grew as a semi-viral hashtag on Twitter throughout the tournament.

Slovenia's heroic effort fell short despite a promising start. Slovenia held the tournament's highest-scoring team to 2-of-14 shooting in the first quarter, but the French big men repeatedly crashed the offensive glass for extra possessions. The effect crippled Slovenia’s fastbreak game, which had been a key component of their success in the first two rounds of the tournament.

France built a 10-point lead in the third quarter, only to see Dragic (18 points, six assists) spearhead the first of two second-half comebacks. The Suns playmaker drove and whipped a one-handed pass out to Jaka Blazic for a three-pointer. He kept the ball on the next play, jab-stepping, then driving right and finishing with a fierce one-handed jam.

Dragic kept Slovenia’s offense clicking, finding Bostjan Nachbar and Blazic for another pair of three-pointers before scoring on an elbow jumper to cut the lead to three.

The fourth quarter was a similar affair, with France opening up a double-digit lead before Dragic once again led a rally. France’s defense forced key turnovers, however, and ultimately stifled the comeback bid.

Consolation games now become key for Slovenia, which will be one of seven teams vying for six spots in the 2014 FIBA World Cup. Spain is already guaranteed a berth as the host nation.