Team Lithuania is now on the way to the Quarter-Final of the FIBA tournament after they dispatched the “Tall Blacks” of New Zealand 76:71
This is the second time the two teams have met this year and both times it ended up being a fight to the finish . Team LT ended up on top both times, but not before being given a scare by their Haka-dancing opponents.
Early in the game, Lithuania came out dominant. Nothing could go right for New Zealand, while LT was scoring buckets from the inside and out. NZ tried shooting a whole bunch of three-pointers but was ice-cold, going 0/8 from beyond the arc in the first. Lithuania was getting the ball inside to their weapon , Jonas Valančiūnas early and often. If they doubled him he would kick out to teammates where they were hitting the three-ball at a solid clip. If they didn’t double-team Jonas, he would make them pay inside. It was that simple. After the first period , LT got off to a commanding lead 23:9.
This dominance continued well into the second quarter , even after Jonas Mačiulis went out with a bloody gash on his forehead. The Lithuanian defense was cutting off the Tall Black’s primary weapons, their fast-break points and offensive rebounding. LT continued the strategy of “pick-your-poison”. Damned if you overplay them in the paint because they kick out for threes , damned if you don’t because they got a lot of size and will punish you inside. They would have had a 15-point lead going into the half, but a couple sloppy turnovers led to New Zealand converting at the other end. Also Dariuš Lavrinovič committed a really bone-headed intentional foul with 1.2 sec left in the half when New Zealand was in the penalty, so it led to free-throws. Instead of a 15-point cushion , Coach Kazlauskas’s squad allowed them to creep to within ten, 36:26 by intermission.
Early in the second half , the game got more physical as New Zealand obviously agreed in the locker-room that there needed to be more urgency. Simas Jasaitis took a hard screen about three minutes in and ended up having to take a trip to the hospital with a cracked rib. New Zealand went with what defined them as a team, those fast-break points and put-backs . They got back into it early on in the period. After allowing NZ to tighten the score , JV came in and re-built a fourteen-point lead with just three minutes to go in the quarter.
What often happens though when a team has a big lead happened to Lithuania . They started taking way too many jump-shots and watched them clank off the rim. Darjuš L. hit a three early in the period which was the last one they would have until Mačiulis hit his dagger late in the fourth. These many failed 3-point attempts allowed New Zealand to claw back into it. The score going into the 4th was 58:50.
The same tentative behavior, taking their foot off the gas , continued for Lithuania well into the final stanza. Before Lithuania knew it , Isaac Foto and Chris Webster had hit three triples and had given NZ their first lead 59:58 with 7 min to go in the game . It was then Coach K re-inserted his NBA-duo of JV and D-Mo for both the Lavrinovičus brothers. JV had been having a monster game up until this point and it only continued during crunch-time. He attacked the rim and either drew the foul or went into beast-mode to score inside the paint. It wasn’t long before LT was back on top, desperately not wanting to let the game slip away. It stayed a roller-coaster ride of nerves up until almost the very end though . Every time LT would get a lead , the Tall Blacks showed their fight and found a way to keep it close. Up 72:65 with just under a minute left , New Zealand refused to surrender and closed the gap to 3 points but with 11 seconds left to go . Quite a few missed foul shots insured Lithuania would have to work even harder to win. The foul shots that mattered the most however with just a few seconds left on the clock, Marty Pocius hit to give them a 5-point lead and basically the game . The final score was 76:71 , which was good enough to get Lithuania yet another ticket to yet another quarterfinal .
The hero of the game was Jonas Valančiūnas who went off for 22 points and 13 boards on an efficient 8/11 FG shooting performance. He was also a perfect 6/6 from the FT line which is such a big reason he’s so dangerous down low. Donatas Motiejunas and D. Lavrinovič both had solid games with Dariuš getting 10 points on 2/2 3-pt FG. D-Mo had 8 points and 8 rebounds . Renaldas Seibutis took over as chairman of the “point-guard by committee” for team LT.
He had a solid game of 9 points and 5 assists along with great defense throughout the contest. Martynas Pocius had the steal that arguably put the game into Lithuania’s column at the very end along with those two key free- throws he hit to put it away . Jonas Mačiulis gets an honorable mention for draining the 3-pointer which gave Lithuania all the momentum very late in the game. He had the toughness to come back in after that gruesome cut sent him out of the game early on to get some stitches.
The hero of team Lithuania as always is the team itself. Quite a few valuable contributions are given by so-called “role-players” on the team night in and night out. Jonas Kazlauskas knows how deep his team is and doesn’t have to overwork his players. Even JV only played 27 minutes despite it being probably his best performance of the tournament so far . Only Renaldas Seibutis played more than 30 minutes for the squad. This is San Antonio Spurs-like and quite typical for Lithuania. Their depth and unselfishness is their weapon along with one of the stingiest defenses .
This Tuesday Lithuania squares off against Omer Asik and Turkey in the quarterfinal , who just barely beat out the “Boomers” of Australia 65:61 to make it to the quarterfinals again..Many are saying this is the match-up Lithuania wants, considering Australia bested LT in group-play. But no matchup is a “good” match-up in a knock-out tournament when national pride is on the line . The Turks took the silver medal last FIBA World Championship when they hosted it in 2010.
Lithuania will have to show them decisively that no matter what their so-called “deficiencies ” are due to player injuries, there’s no worse team to face when national pride is on the line than those Baltic basketball fanatics!
[divider]Lithuania v Slovenia – Best Assist [/divider]