Neal Maloney | The Lithuania Tribune
As usual Lithuania fought hard from behind showing the heart that we all have come to know they’re capable of. As usual though, their turnovers were devastating to any hope of a comeback. The second half saw Lithuania come back from a 14-point deficit to get within two but they threw the ball away so many times, Russia eventually capitalized and brought home the win. The final score was 83:74.
From the beginning both teams weren’t executing on offense and it was a low scoring meat-grinder the entire first half. By the end of the second quarter, the score was only 32:27 on a slew of just plain ugly possessions. Surprisingly, Lithuania was down by only five at halftime despite the fact that they went on a shooting drought the size of the Sahara desert in the first quarter. Top player and team captain Linas Kleiza was cold from the field , missing shot after shot. When Kemzura injected veteran forward Darius Songaila into the mix they finally started to make some stuff happen on offense, with him scoring 12 points by the end of the half on a perfect performance which carried over the entirety of the game. They clawed their way back from a double-digit deficit to get within five points.
In the second half, Lithuania came onto the floor without Jonas Valanciunas therefore Andrei Kirilenko, Timofy Mozgov and Sasha Kaun all went off without any rim protection for Lithuania. They exploited their larger size advantage in the paint. Kirilenko ended up with 19 points and 13 rebounds, justifying his new contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves of the NBA. Then as if coach Kemzura heard the screams of three million voices, he decided to put Valanciunas back in the game. This was a game-changer. Lithuania got the advantage of an offensive threat in the paint that had to be respected . This finally opened up three-point sharpshooters Rimas Kaukenas and even Mantas Kalnietis, who busted out of his rut from the rest of the tournament with a vengeance, knocking down some timely late-game threes. On the other end the Russians found it suddenly difficult to get to the basket with a 7-footer blocking their way. Jonas had an impactful performance but it was too little , too late. Every time they would rally to within striking distance , Lithuania did what they usually did, turn the ball over on rushed passes. Sarunas Jaskevicius was the worst offender, but he certainly wasn’t the only one who failed to potect the ball for Lithuania.
The leaders for Lithuania were Rimas Kaukenas with 19 points and Darius Songaila with 15 points and 5 rebounds. Mantas Kalnietis, who had been relegated to the bench after poor play throughout group play, let everyone know why he’s on the team. His threes were crucial to keeping Lithuania within striking distance. He ended the game with 14 points. Jonas Valanciunas finally got some minutes from Kemzura and played well, scoring 7 points and grabbing 9 rebounds. It was hard to tell from the stat sheet what his influence was on the defensive end, as he protected the rim and halted the Russian advance. As usual Kemzura tends to be a mad scientist, mixing rosters like chemicals in a beaker to find the best result. Lithuania does have a lot of inredients. Kleiza, Pocius, and Jasikevicus all played poorly tonight despite their great perfomances of late. They were substituted for the likes of Songaila, Kaukenas and Kalnietis who ended up being the right mixture. For Russia, the usual suspects of Kirilenko and Mozgov were the leaders getting to the rim with impunity for the 25 minutes Lithuania was without Valanciunas.. Sergey Monya and Vitaly Fridzon also played well, hitting some key threes for the Russian squad.
This year was never expected to be Lithuania’s year. With too many of their older veterans fading away into the twilight and the bright young stars still raw, Lithuania is left with it’s streaky , mediocre club players who have lots of problems. One thing this tournament proves is that Lithuania is to be respected by their opponents no matter what the talent level on their roster. That’s because they don’t go quietly into the night, they stay and fight back . This is the history of the tiny basketball-crazed nation , they don’t give up no matter what. On the horizon they are looking good for the Rio Olympics in 2016. Valanciunas and Motiejunas will be the two 7-footers anchoring the frontcourt with Linas Kleiza in his prime leading the squad plus a fresh infusion of gold-medal winning talent from their U20 squad. Things will continue to look bright for the future of Lithuanian basketball, the proud tradition will live on without a shadow of a doubt.