This was meant to be a battle of Jonas Valanciunas and Bogdan Bogdanovic. In the end, it was a one-man show as Bogi went wild to bring Serbia past Lithuania and into the semi-finals of the 2023 FIBA World Cup
An aggressive opening
Bogdan Bogdanovic let us know exactly how this first quarter was going to go right from the opening tip. He made a quick steal and danced to stay inbounds before finishing with the lay-up. Jonas Valanciunas responded quickly for Lithuania. His three over Nikola Militunov made him Lithuania’s all-time scorer at the FIBA World Cup.
In a battle of the two most accurate sides in the competition, Lithuania had the better of early proceedings. With far more success from deep, they quickly established a lead of a couple of possessions. Bogdanovic however was on a mission for Serbia. Time and again he drove through traffic. Time and again he succeeded. His first three, right after Valanciunas sat for the first time, ensured Serbia stayed in touch.
Jovic and Petrusev step up
Serbia succeeded in finding more space as the first quarter wound down. Nikola Jovic and Filip Petrusev both stepped up in key moments for scores. That was enough to cut the deficit to the bare minimum at the end of the first quarter. Valanciunas sitting had certainly made life easier for Serbia. Still, they needed to improve their ability to create and execute from outside.
Petrusev finds a rhythm while Valanciunas loses his
Much like Bogdanovic had opened the first quarter in style for Serbia, this time it was the turn of Petrusev. A quick finish at the rim push Serbia into a 3 point lead. He immediately got back down court for an impressive, albeit failed, chasedown. The message was clear, Serbia was going to hunt down every half chance without worrying about risking fouls.
Lithuania weren’t helped by Valanciunas needing a minute to find his rhythm again upon returning to play. Militunov had been embarrassed by him in the first quarter and was playing him much tighter now. That said, when the Serbian big man wanted to get loose he could. A little step back before receiving a pass, and he was able to shoot over Valanciunas to score.
JV responds but so does Bogdanovic
It took half a quarter and a big run by Serbia, but Jonas Valanciunas remembered who he was. JV grabbed a board with Militunov all over him yet he made it look like the Serbia big wasn’t even there. Just two hands, straight up, and ignoring the potential threat.
Still, it was Bogdanovic who was proving the superior of the two leaders on the court. Bogdan gave Serbia the biggest lead of the game up to that point with a finish inside in the middle of the second. He followed that up with a three, to move to 13 points in as many minutes. At the half, Serbia looked the far stronger of the two sides. Lithuania didn’t need to make adjustments so much as they needed to wake up their back court. They needed to get the creative juices flowing. As a hero ball three from Bogdanovic to close the half gave Serbia a 49-38 lead at the break.
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A battle with history
Evenly matched as these sides were on paper, the odds were against a Lithuania comeback. The last time Lithuania had recovered successfully from a double-digit deficit at the FIBA World Cup was in 1998. Serbia, meanwhile, had led 13 previous games by such a margin in the competition and won all of them.
Ignas Brazdeikis and Valanciunas quickly made the scoreboard look more manageable for Lithuania, making Serbia look less like the side that had destroyed Dominican Republic two days ago. Bogi however was not going to make it easy for them to mount a sustained comeback. Bogdanovic slipped inside for a nice finish and, once again, it looked daunting for LTU. A dunk by Nikola Jovic and the Serbian fans were in full voice again.
By the mid-point of the third, this one was done. Bogdanovic, a master in consistency, had delivered a masterful display on the biggest stage. The gap grew and grew as Lithuania simply had no response to Serbia’s offensive onslaught. Inside, outside, it didn’t matter, Serbia had been better in every facet since the mid-point of the opening quarter.
This was, unquestionably, the Bogdan Bogdanovic show but credit must go to the whole Serbia team here. The plan was simple and effective. They were not going to let Lithuania get a moment of peace on the ball and it showed throughout. While LTU could compete for chunks of the game, they were never the same after Valanciunas took a seat for the first time.
Next up is either Canada or Slovenia, both offering rather different challenges, but one thing is clear. If Serbia can play like this twice more, it’s going to take something extraordinary to deny them the 2023 FIBA World Cup title.