Ksistof and Darjus Lavrinovic hit five of six three pointers between them, and ultimately that proved the difference between Lithuania and Montenegro and a nerve-wracking overtime win.
In the crucial penultimate game in the first round of Eurobasket 2013 the brothers sent a grim message to opposition benches saying we have a variety and depth that is the envy of many teams.
Unfortunately though, we still don’t have a great team game to go with it, but a unity is starting to develop. While the brothers provided the spark to ignite the win, this joyous victory was very much a team effort.
Kalnietis was below his usual points tally as both he and Seibutis each racked up 40 minutes of game time and continued their stellar on-court leadership roles.
Kleiza is showing signs of returning to something near his best, but the ball just won’t drop for him at the moment. Still, there are signs that he’s on his way, and most heartening is that he seems to have regained the desire to do some dirty work inside the paint.
Jonas Maciulis has been an improver too, showing off his bulldog pedigree with a snarl he scratched and scraped away in clocking up 36 and a half minutes on the parquetry despite being none from nine on the field.
His defensive effort was substantial in giving the team some foundation in withstanding the Montenegrans who were playing their very last card in this tournament.
Montenegro withstood the early Lavrinovic onslaught and after being about 10 points down early in the first quarter, had recovered to even the score by the first break.
They went one step further in next quarter taking a two point lead to the long break as their talls continued to play well and their defence left Kazlauskas searching for a winning combination.
Kuzminskas and Motiejunas were given a couple of minutes in the first half but relegated to the bench for the rest of the match, while Pocius didn’t see any action at all. Javtokas had a couple of minutes in the second half but his cameo was soon curtailed as coach Kazlauskas went back to his pre-game plan.
To his credit Motiejunas then took charge of cheerleading duties on the bench and gave as much drive off the bench as one possible can.
Valanciunas is starting to settle in as the prime centre. Having started the second half with a couple of massive dunks the whole hall was hoping it was a hallmark of some domination to come, but the Montenegran defence stood up and dried up his opportunities to get his hands on the ball.
It seems the team is either overly intent on getting the ball into him, or otherwise they appear to completely ignore his picks and rolls. Last night there were a few passes that I reckon even I could have picked off from the sidelines, but again, this is a learning process and all seems to be moving in the right direction.
Lithuania took a four point lead into the last quarter and then stretched it to eight before we suffered an unseasonal scoring drought. We were simply unable to hit the hoop for the most part of the quarter as Montenegro slowly clawed back, inch by inch.
It took the shock of seeing the scores tied to prod Lithuania into action and a late flurry of points from both sides saw the siren sound with both teams tied on 63, including a three point prayer thrown up by Rice that was the catalyst in the teams ending regulation even.
Overtime was tight at the start, but fittingly it was a Lavrinovic triple from the top, courtesy of Darjus this time, that gave us the extra momemtum to push past our gritty rivals. With a five point buffer, Valanciunas iced the win with a couple of free throws after a strong defensive rebound and it was off to the party for the rapturous fans who were brought back from the brink of a massive collective heart-attack.
Full credit to Montenegro who outscored us in the paint 38 – 24 and out-rebounded us 44 – 31, but their Achilles' heel was turnovers which Lithuania capitalised on to the tune of 16 to 6.
The lead changed 12 times and scores were tied another 11 in this gut-wrenching encounter, but we got to sing ‘Mes Laimejom’, and that’s what counts.
It’s also a good sign that this team knows how to win. It has many options and is prepared to let various players take the initiative as conditions and form dictate. But most of all, they want to win.
After all the drama of last night, and a decent night’s rest, the good news is that we do it all again tonight. Bosnia and Herzegovina are in an identical position and need to win to have any chance of moving forward, while Lithuania can still drop out if we lose and other results go against us.
Talk to you tomorrow – if I can.
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