Neal Maloney | The Lithuania Tribune
Perhaps because this tiny country is used to the role of ‘David’ against the ‘Goliaths’ of the world they always seem to match up well against Team USA. In their last five match-ups since 2000, Lithuania has been one of the few teams to ever beat USA in their recent history and have only once lost by more than ten points. This time was no different. Lithuania, like the ‘Rocky Balboa’ of the world , you pound on them mercilessly yet they still miraculously keep coming back. The game ended with a score of 99:94, and then the whole crowd gave Lithuania a standing ovation, much respect for Lithuania as a basketball nation.
From start to finish, team Lithuania came to play. Not once was the USA lead larger than ten points. In fact, Lithuania took the lead themselves several times throughout the game including an 84:83 lead halfway through the fourth quarter. Team USA had just come off an astonishing 83-point victory over Nigeria, a team that just folded under the pressure. Lithuania on the other hand, did not fold. They hung with them every step of the way.
Overall Lithuania shot the ball far better than team USA, who were coming off a whopping 29 three-pointers against Nigeria. Lithuania went 70 percent from the field today, shooting just under 50 percent behind the arc. They also made 75 percent from the foul line where the USA struggled hard tonight, shooting only 61 percent. Team USA shot only 44 percent from the field while making a meager 30 percent from beyond the three-point line. Lithuania’s half-court defense was suffocating where they had to “pick their poison”, allowing more open threes in exchange for greater security of the paint area where team USA can really kill you. The three ball failed to go down though tonight for team USA. Once again, Lithuania had balanced scoring, emphasizing the Kemzura philosophy of sharing the ball among the bench weapons who all can flare up at any moment. Linas Kleiza was the leader yet again, scoring 25 points and grabbing 5 rebounds. Martynas Pocius continued on his hot streak, almost earning a triple-double. He had 14 points 7 rebounds and led the team with 7 assists. Renaldas Seibutis , Simas Jasaitis , Darius Songaila and Paulius Jankunas all made valuable contributions off the bench as well. Showing the USA why they are like a hydra; you cut off one head and there are about six more ready to take their place.
Team USA was led by big three of LeBron, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant but not one of them had more than 20 points. On the rest of the team, only Deron Williams had more than ten points. Doc Rivers, former NBA player and current head-coach of the Eastern Conference runner-ups, the Boston Celtics had this to say as a commentator after the game, “ If Lithuania hadn’t given up 20 turnovers , this game would have gone the other way.” That does always seem to be the Achilles heel for Lithuania. If you pressure them, as team USA is an expert at , they tend to rush and make bad-passes leading to turnovers and the easy buckets. They failed in caring for the ball again today, giving up an unacceptably high number of turnovers.
Having survived this scare against Lithuania, team USA faces Argentina and Manu Ginobli and Luis Scola. I assume coach K will make them hit the gym for some practice after this one. Lithuania faces Tunisia, who has been improving with each game in this tournament. Lithuania needs to focus on this game and not play with the same level of overconfidence that got USA into trouble in today’s game. If all goes well, Lithuania earns a spot in medal round yet again for the 6th time in a row in their brief time as an independent country. They probably face a fearsome Russia, who pulled off another close victory against Spain. They are 4-0 and lead group B. Lithuania will undoubtedly have to face them in the Quarterfinals. The symbolic nature of this match-up with their former oppressors will make the game that much more interesting.
In the proud history of Lithuanian basketball, this one will be remembered. It won’t be remembered because Lithuania lost, no one expected them to win. It will be remembered because everyone is now reminded that you can’t count Lithuania out because they will keep on fighting back. You knock them down; they get up again like Rocky Balboa in the movies against Ivan Drago. Very few people look forward to playing these guys no matter what their record is in group play. Lithuanian history is about not backing down from bullies but standing toe-to-toe with giants against seemingly insurmountable odds. Bottom line, today they got their respect.