Basketball: Lithuania opens the World Cup in Spain with a victory against Mexico


The Lithuanian national basketball team debuted in the World Cup in Spain with a convincing victory against Mexico 87-74

Lithuania, which is FIBA-ranked fourth place in the world, started its run for a medal in Spain off on the right foot. In their first match in Group D, Lithuania faced FIBA America’s champion Mexico.

In the  first quarter both teams kept the match close, but Mexico managed to take the advantage in the last two minutes of play in order to go into the first break ahead 27-22.

The Lithuanian team woke up, however, in the second quarter. Dariuš Lavrinovič came in and knocked down a three-pointer in order to close the gap to 2 (34-32) with 6:19 minutes left until halftime. Hernandez Gallegos drained a three himself, though to give keep his squad on top 39-35. Donatas Motejūnas and Simas Jasaitis both rallied the Lithuanian offense, however, and continued to build momentum for their team. When the smoke cleared, Lithuania had dominated the second quarter 23-14 . By halftime, Lithuania had a four-point advantage, with the scoreboard reading 45-41 in their favor.

Mexico opened up the third with heavy defensive pressure and managed to take back the lead in the first two minutes. They pulled ahead 51-47. Jonas Mačiulis struck back though, and scored a three-point shot in order to stop the Mexican run and soon the game had swung back to Lithuania’s favor 53-51 just that quick.

After the initial gasp from Mexico early in the second half, team Lithuania pulled away. Donatas Motejūnas continued to put the ball in the basket and Adas Jusukevičius chipped in nine points off the bench giving Lithuania the advantage 62-53. Darijuš Lavrinovič with a huge dunk awoke the Lithuanian crowd in Gran Canaria while his teammate,  Donatas Motejūnas, proving why he’s an NBA player , drained another three in order to give a 66-53 lead to Lithuania. With 0:49 seconds to the end of the quarter, Motejūnas capped it off with a dunk  and  Simas Jasaitis calmly knocked down a free-throw shot a few seconds before the end of the period to give a comfortable 16-point cushion to Lithuania going into the fourth. Lithuania had totally dominated  the all-important third quarter 22-12.

With a score of 69-53 Lithuania left by the beginning of the fourth.  Mexico was determined however to try to close the gap. Just as determined though not to let his NBA-brother D-Mo have all the fun , Lithuanian star Jonas Valančiunas emerged and continued to make every single shot in the paint.  He helped Lithuania gain its largest lead of the game 76-59. Mexico refused to surrender and with a lot of defensive pressure along with a few Lithuanian turnovers, they managed to pull within 10 points,  78-68.

Jonas Kazlauskas’s  team didn’t panic,  but instead continued to get points from  Valančiunas , who had yet another sick dunk . This made the score 82-70 with 2:14 minutes until the final-buzzer. Jonas Mačiulis with the last of his 4 threes hit a dagger at the buzzer,  capping off the game 87-74. This gave Lithuania a solid victory in its first contest without injured starting point-guard Mantas Kalnietis. Interesting to note, is that Mexico won 21-20 in the final quarter of the match, but it wasn’t enough to dig them out of the hole they were in.

During the match, Lithuania shot 63% on 2-point field-goals while Mexico shot slightly better with 68%. Beyond the arc though, Lithuania handled their business much better than Mexico, making 55% 3-pt FG, while their opponents shot only 22% from the promised-land. Mexico surprised everyone with their free-throw shooting, making  a  perfect 100 percent from the charity-stripe. Lithuania on the other hand missed quite a lot from the free-throw line and finished the match a terrible  54% FT.

The statistical leaders for team LT were Jonas Valančiūnas with 17 points and 5 rebounds on a perfect 8/8 shooting performance from the field. Donatas Motiejūnas had 15 points along with 4 rebounds on 7/12 FG. Jonas Mačiulis was the top scorer though with 19 points,  going a perfect 4/4 from beyond the arc.

The next game is August 31st when Lithuania will face Angola. The match will start a 18:30 Vilnius time.

Aleksejus Podpruginas
Aleksejus Podpruginas is The Baltic Review author based in Israel

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