In Game 2 of the two Western Conference semi-finals, French players combined to make only three foul shots, out of nine attempts. Tony Parker was 3-6, Mickaël Piétrus was 0-for-3, and Boris Diaw did not attempt a foul shot. Before this, French players had shot extremely well from the line in the playoffs. Piétrus was 16-19, Diaw was 7-9, and Parker was 18-21. In addition, Frenchman Ronny Turiaf of the eliminated Los Angeles Lakers shot 7-10 in the first-round loss to the Suns.
So what changed? I have three theories:
1. Anxiety over election returns:
Conservative Nicolas Sarkozy won the presidency of France, distressing these athletes. Footballer Lillian Thuram has been an outspoken opponent of Sarkozy, claiming that he is "awakening the hidden racism" of the French people. Thuram also took issue with Sarkozy's comments blaming blacks and Arabs for suburban riots, and calling urban immigrant youths "scum".
Perhaps the basketball players are distracted. During the frantic up-and-down of the game, they can put aside their political fears about France's right-wing, racialized future, but at the moment of contemplation just before a lancer-franc, the fears come back. Also, it would not surprise me if the players were unconsciously aiming slightly left of the cylinder, to counter-balance the political shift.
2. After notable headbutts, French players miss important penalty shots:
In last summer's World Cup, David Trezeguet missed his penalty shot just minutes after Zinedine Zidane was sent off for headbutting Marco Materazzi. Since Tony Parker split open Steve Nash's nose, French free throw shooting has gone into le toilette. Maybe Boris Diaw could sense this, and thus settled for jump shots throughout Game 2.
3. Sympathy for Tony Parker
Eva Longoria told Jimmy Kimmel that she was not having sex with Tony Parker until their wedding day in June. It is possible that the sympathetic Frenchmen feel that putting it in the hole so easily is essentially taunting poor Tony.
I'll be watching to see if the trend continues when the Suns and Spurs resume hostilities tonight in San Antonio. As far was the Warriors are concerned, there's a simple way to get Piétrus back on track: Wine-tasting with Nellie.
Or maybe Mickaël just needs a hug.