I managed to get tickets to the women's Olympic basketball semifinals on Thursday night between Russia and France after hours of frantic searching online. Finally, I managed to click through at the exact time that someone else sold their tickets back to the London 2012 website and proceeded to purchase my ticket.
The game turned out be a great contest between two proud nations. I had no idea what the two teams- or their fans- would be like, nor did I have a clue as to what to expect from the game itself. As I soon discovered, however, the privilege of representing one's country at the Olympics provides for some great entertainment.
Here's how the game went:
10:00- The energy in the building is quite noticeably tilted in France's favor. The French rush out to an 8-0 lead, much to the delight of the crowd.
7:02- Russia's best player, Becky Hammon (introduced as such during the pre-game montage, also plays for the San Antonio Stars in the WNBA), enters the game. I start to wonder whether or not it's a good idea to have your best player coming off the bench. Maybe she's recovering from injury?
3:41- Nope, Hammon looks great and makes an impact right away. She drains a wide open three to score seven consecutive points and bring her team within two at 12-10. Looks like things may be looking up for Russia. Either way, I need to settle on a team to root for.
2:30- France goes on a 6-0 run by doing what they've excelled at the entire game: driving to the basket and finding open shooters. If only Russia could get some offense from anybody not named Hammon...
0:08- France nails a three-pointer right before the buzzer to go up 24-15. 24 points in one quarter? The French are on fire. I decide to cheer for the Russians the rest of the way. Who doesn't love a good comeback story?
10:00- The Russian crowd is starting to sense that this game could get ugly very quickly if their team doesn't turn it on, and they begin the first of many "Rush-ee-uh" chants that echo throughout the arena. Motivated by my newfound allegiance, I join in.
5:49- Russia nails two three-pointers in a row. The lead is cut to 10 after ballooning to 14 earlier. The French fans are getting nervous that their double-digit lead might disappear, but they're just as loud as ever.
1:09- During the official timeout, two dads take the floor for a dance-off to LMFAO's "Sexy And I Know It". I take a second to consider whether this is going to be awkward or hilarious- turns out to be hilarious.
0:00- Russia closes on a 4-0 run to trail only 38-31. I must say that I'm proud of the Russians, battling back from 14 down at one point to achieve a manageable halftime deficit.
Halftime- The highlight of the break is the kiss cam, which turns out to be the most unique one (by far) that I've ever seen. The two in-house PAs decide to critique every single kiss, giving props to the courageous and egging on the nervous. "Give her one more! C'mon, one more! One more!" By the end, even the hesitant couples can't help but enjoy themselves. The crowd is rocking with laughter.
10:00- Things shift suddenly, and I can feel the intensity increase in the arena. Both sides realize that their team is one good half of basketball away from a shot at a gold medal. The fans are going crazy, and the players seem to have a little more energy on the floor. This should be a fun ride.
8:11- Emilie Gomis, the center for France who was nowhere to be found in the first half, starts off by drawing contact in the lane and knocking down two free throws. I start to think that the Russians are in trouble if she gets going.
5:21- Right on cue, Gomis shows that she's more than just a physical center by knocking down a three-pointer. My heart sinks as a fan of the Russian side- the team had managed to pull within two points before that one. 45-40.
4:23- I look over at the large contingent of Russian fans during the timeout and catch a man swiftly moving his Russian flag around his body in a pattern, using it as a dance prop while looking like a crazed Jedi flailing with his lightsaber. This brings plenty of cheers from the Russian crowd. I wonder to myself why we don't have such cool pump-up celebrations in the U.S.
1:22- The momentum starts to swing back to Russia when Marina Kuzina, a reserve forward for Russia, catches fire. Kuzina connects on back-to-back threes and follows it up with a beautiful drive to the basket. The Phoenix Suns fan inside of me starts to believe that the Russians can win if they can keep up this three-point barrage. It's 53-50 in favor of France.
0:00- I can't help but smile and shake my head as Celine Dumerc, the captain of the French team and the starting point guard, nails a buzzer-beating three over two Russian defenders. Wow. It's a terrible shot, but somehow she had the guts to take it and make it. France leads 59-51 heading into the final quarter.
10:00- Just like the beginning of the third quarter, the arena starts to vibrate with energy. Both fan bases are nervous and excited at the same time. In 10 minutes, one country is going to the Olympic finals.
8:01- Russia calls timeout after two minutes of stagnant offense. France has pulled ahead by 12 points at 65-53, and if Russia wants to win, they need to turn it on now. Hammon returns to the floor after a few minutes of rest. She's been stagnant over the past two quarters and needs to pick things up. I join in the "Rush-ee-uh, Rush-ee-uh" chants as the Russians cheer their team on.
5:33- France's Edwige Lawson-Wade connects on a three-pointer to go 4-for-4 on the night. The French lead 70-56, and that shot looks like the dagger. I watch the French fans jump up and down in delirium while the Russian sit silently in their seats. A group of Russians try to start another set of "Rush-ee-uh, Rush-ee-uh, Rush-ee-uh" chants, but they're quickly overpowered by the yelling and cheering French fans.
2:05- I watch as Gomes delivers one last magical possession for France: she steals the ball, races down the court, misses a layup, collects her own board and then uses the glass to make hr shot. France now leads 76-56, and the crowd is going crazy. Gomes races down the court and screams into the air as the reality of a gold medal appearance sets in.
0:30- Dumerc nails a three-pointer for France as the French start to celebrate. France is headed to their first Olympic women's final ever, and the atmosphere is intense. Their happiness reminds me of NBA fans who just watched their team close out a tough conference opponent in the conference finals for a berth in the NBA Finals. The final score in this one: France 81, Russia 64.
The French played a great game against Russia and maintained a slim to comfortable lead over the first three quarters before putting the game away in the fourth. France will take on Team USA, led by Phoenix Mercury star Diana Taurasi, in the finals. The Americans have won 40 consecutive Olympic matches and are four-time defending champions. If tonight is any indication, however, the French could be dangerous in the finals.
They play unselfish basketball and share the ball extremely well, creating open shots and finding cutters to generate easy offense. France had six players score in double digits on this night, and their balanced attack means that Team USA can't key in on just one or two of them but must instead play very solid one-on-one defense. If France plays with the intensity that they showed down the stretch against Russia, they could make the game very, very interesting. That being said, the Americans will enter the final as favorites and will look to deliver the same type of memorable performance that the French delivered against Russia en route to their fifth straight gold medal.