GGreat honor for superstar Dirk Nowitzki, great sport from his successors around leader Dennis Schröder: The German basketball players got off to the best possible start in the European Championship at home and clearly defeated France, who came second in the Olympics, with 76:63 (38:31).
In front of almost 18,000 enthusiastic spectators in Cologne, the team of national coach Gordon Herbert showed a strong performance on Thursday evening and raised hopes for the first medal since 2005 only four days after the clear success over defending champion Slovenia in the World Cup qualification. Johannes Thiemann was with 14 points best thrower of the German team, which made a first step towards the round of 16 with the success.
“Above all, the defense was the key. No matter who was on the field, we defended hard,” said center Daniel Theis after the game on “Magentasport”. “We can only win as a team. Of course that gives a boost, but we can’t buy anything for one win,” said Theis. “We went onto the floor without fear and worked hard,” praised coach Gordon Herbert.
“I’ve always enjoyed playing for Germany”
At first, Schröder and Co. had to wait, but for good reason: The German Basketball Federation used the start of the European Championship to pull Nowitzki’s number 14 jersey under the roof of the hall. Not only his family and old Dallas companions such as Jason Kidd, Michael Finley and club boss Mark Cuban were present at the emotional – and so far unique in German basketball – honor, but also Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
“You can quickly become a star in sport. In order to be a hero in the eyes of the fans, you also have to have heart and character,” said Steinmeier, who addressed the honoree several times with “Dear Dirk Nowitzki”. The 44-year-old from Würzburg himself kept his speech short this time and said after 153 appearances in the national jersey: “I’ve always enjoyed playing for Germany, I’ve always given everything, so it means a lot to me.”
Versatile Theis, playmaker Schröder
When Nowitzki’s final words (“And now: let’s go Germany!”) were spoken, the focus shifted to sport. In front of a large crowd, things got off to a rather bumpy start for both sides: France’s defensive anchor Rudy Gobert allowed himself an airball on a free throw, so he didn’t even hit the ring. Germany, on the other hand, waited almost four minutes for the first points after several misunderstandings before captain Schröder converted two free throws.
Then things got better. Returnee Theis, who was unable to play for about two weeks due to knee problems, seemed stable and flexible. With his athleticism and versatility, the 30-year-old NBA professional not only enriched the offensive, but was also an important counterweight to NBA star Gobert, around whom the French team is built.
The Alba duo Maodo Lo and Thiemann as well as ex-Berliner Niels Giffey provided important impetus from the bank. The reward for a solid team performance was the lead at half-time. Unlike at the start of the 2019 World Cup (74:78 against France), the Herbert team was competitive from the start. Schröder initially impressed more as a playmaker, but the hosts also functioned primarily as a collective.
With the exception of Gobert and Evan Fournier, France no longer has the big names it did in the days of Tony Parker, but is still considered one of the favorites to win the tournament. In Slovenia, with NBA superstar Luka Doncic and Lithuania, two more tricky opponents await in Group B. If there is another win against Bosnia-Herzegovina on Saturday (2.30 p.m.), qualification for the final round in Berlin will be within reach.