Maodo Lo had just gone down after making contact with Rudy Gobert and there are certainly better things than being knocked over by the 2.16 meter tall French center. But Lo smiled and Dennis Schröder helped him up with an equally big grin. The last seconds of the opening game at the European Basketball Championship were running and the German team got off to a dream start. The DBB selection won 76:63 (17:13, 21:18, 19:12, 19:20) on Thursday evening in front of a full house in Cologne against the highly rated French. The second of five group games is scheduled against Bosnia on Saturday.
If the game is not even the clear highlight at the start of a major tournament, something special must have happened. On Thursday, all the fans in the hall and in front of the screens looked primarily to a 44-year-old sports icon: Dirk Nowitzki. Three years after the end of his career, the Würzburg player received an honor that was unique in German basketball. Before the start of the game, his jersey with the number 14 was solemnly pulled under the ceiling of the hall and will not be given out again in the future.
“It’s easy to become a star in sport, but stardom is fleeting. In order to remain a hero in the eyes of the audience, athletic performance alone is not enough, heart and character must also be added,” said Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who, like many of Nowitzki’s companions from Germany and Dallas, was responsible for the ceremony had come to Cologne.
Nowitzki followed the ceremony in a black suit and thanked him in a short speech. “I’ve always enjoyed playing for my country and gave everything, so it means a lot to me,” said Nowitzki. “It was an unforgettable trip – and now: let’s go Germany!”
The German basketball players listened to the ceremony in the players’ tunnel and high-fived Nowitzki as they entered the field. In the run-up they had hoped for a boost from this special opening act, but in the first few minutes it looked more like the opposite. The DBB selection was initially very difficult, Jonas Wohlfahrt-Bottermann quickly got two fouls and it took three minutes for Dennis Schröder to score the first German points from the free-throw line.
Midway through the first quarter, both teams found something of a rhythm, although the hosts’ game seemed more fluid. The French often gave the Germans a lot of space at the line of three. The newly recovered center Daniel Theis first used this, then Niels Giffey. It was a good sign for the DBB team that the second row around the Alba connection Johannes Thiemann, Maodo Lo and Giffey also went to work with self-confidence and courage. Germany ended the first quarter with a four-point lead.
In the second period, the team of national coach Gordon Herbert had the action under control and didn’t give the French a chance to use their size advantages. The defense in particular worked very well and only Guerschon Yabusele caused serious problems with his mixture of power, dynamics and throwing qualities.
However, the German team did well on both sides of the field and seemed much more balanced as a team. Schröder used his enormous speed several times, Thiemann played excellently and so it hardly mattered that NBA professional Franz Wagner had an inconspicuous day. However, the French played shockingly poorly and only had 31 points at half-time.
As at the start of the game, the German team needed a lot of time after the break to find their rhythm. With two threes and a block against Wagner, Yabusele brought the French back up and even took the lead after a long time.
The German team seemed to wobble briefly. Herbert reacted with a time-out and, with Lo and Schröder, sent his two most creative players onto the field at the same time for the first time. This formation with two classic point guards worked very well and the fun was clear to see for both of them with a nice fast break.