After Lithuania fell to unheralded Poland for its second consecutive Eurobasket loss against teams they really should have outclassed, coach Ramunas Butautas had some choice quotes for his team and the public at large.
“We played terrible,” Butautas said, getting no argument from any quarter. “We had no defense, no offense. We lost our game.”
“We lost the battle on the boards,” Butautas said, displaying a nice touch for the understatement. Lost the battle? At an eye-popping 17, Marcin Gortat had more rebounds than any three Lithuanian players not named Linas Kleiza combined and nearly matched the combination of Kleiza/Tomas Delinikaitis/Arturas Jomantas, which went for 19 boards. Despite statistically losing on the offensive glass, 15 to 10 (which, given Lithuania’s bodies, should have been expected), Team Poland floored Lithuania with 32 defensive rebounds.
“We didn’t fight on the boards,” noted Delinikaitis in the post-game. Indeed. And you know what? They didn’t in game one, either, against another squad Lithuania should have outboarded; instead, Turkey won the battle of the boards in that game both offensively (8-6) and defensively (19-18).
The on-paper evidence so tilted in Lithuania’s favor before this tournament began would seem to indicate that the team’s woes unfortunately lie in the intangibles. With a reconstituted squad missing former stalwarts Sarunas Jasikevicius, Ramunas Siskauskas, Rimantas Kaukenas and Darius Songaila, Lithuania has lost in the mental side of this game since Eurobasket tipped off on Monday.
“I don’t know where our character is,” stated Delinikaitis, thereby verbalizing the mystery for all.
Against Turkey, Team Lithuania played sluggishly and the three-point shooting – a New York Knicks-like 9-of-25 was poorly executed at best, disastrous at worst. In the Poland game, the deservedly played-up stat of revelation was the losers’ ridiculous 1-of-8 shooting from the free-throw line in the first half: Not only were the Lithuanians not fighting for the ball, but when they finally did draw the occasional aggressive foul here and there, they couldn’t finish.
And worst of all, both Turkey and Poland were able to seal their deals thanks to Lithuania rolling over for fourth-quarter runs: Turkey increased a slight fourth-quarter lead to 10 with a 13-5 run, while Poland extended an eight-point lead to an out-of-reach 17 thanks to an 11-2 streak in which Lithuania apparently forgot about perimeter defense altogether.
Before tonight’s Bulgaria game, Lithuania is going to have to collectively find their inner Reggie Millers. But how does one mentally train? How can one forge teamwork overnight from a suddenly-shredded group mentality? And how can they find that magic that has driven these Lithuanian teams into the highest reaches of tournament after tournament.
“Now,” Butautas said, “we have one final chance tomorrow against Bulgaria and we cannot fail.”
Ball in Europe again presents its fearless predictions for today/tonight’s games. And if you’re getting slightly frustrated with the ineffable results in Eurobasket 2009 thus far, you’re not at all alone. Over at Solo Basket’s La Porra pick ‘em game, the most accurate of prognosticators has managed an 11-5 record thus far.
(Incidentally, after last night’s 4-4 showing which included the clever-if-I-say-so-myself choice of Germany over Spain, user “OsDavis” is now ranked 11th in the world in this competition – that’s the top 0.1%! Thank you, thank you very much…)
FYR Macedonia v. Croatia. Two days ago, this looked like a cakewalk. Now, the world is wondering just how much formerly high-flying Croatia was demoralized by Team Greece’s first-half shredding of the Checkerboards. Still, even a depressed Croatian team should have too much for FYR Macedonia. BiE fearless prediction: Croatia in a close one.
Russia v. France. This one looks like the best game on the day three slate, so that clearly indicates a blowout is in store. (Hey, the way this tournament has defied logic heretofore, that makes sense.) Pity poor Russia, whose hardcore defense will be tested after having to shift gears from run-and-gun Germany to a Team France stacked with skilled big men. BiE fearless prediction: France wins game, wins round one.
Spain v. Slovenia. One entered the tournament with a team of all-stars and the prospective favorites, the other came in with injuries and without arguably the country’s two best players. Yet, here’s Slovenia leading Group C and Spain struggling with Team Britannia. BiE fearless prediction: Spain wins barely, but does not bolster confidence in the team’s continued Eurobasket survival.
Poland v. Turkey. Talk about using that 13th man to your advantage, eh? Poland has thrilled in front of raucous fans in two games, but the surprise factor is out. Plus, Hedo and the boys look good right now. Real good. BiE fearless prediction: The hometown crowd is rocked again in this matchup between the tournament’s two highest-scoring squads, but Turkey scores over 90 in an overtime win.
Israel v. Greece. Israel’s already out, Greece is automatically labeled no. 1 seed from Group A for game four. However, Greece’s second string could probably win this game. By the way, all aboard the Bourousis-for-Eurobasket MVP bandwagon! BiE fearless prediction: Greece.
Germany v. Latvia. Latvia’s survival is at stake in this game, but count this writer among the believers in Dirk Bauermann’s genius. A couple more wins and the worship services may begin. BiE fearless prediction: Germany, and handily.
Great Britain v. Serbia. Did Great Britain fail to win yesterday or did Spain fail to lose? No matter, Serbia needs to win here and should bounce back from the ugly loss against Slovenia. Cheerio, Great Britain; better luck (and roster, hopefully) in the next one. BiE fearless prediction: Serbia.
Lithuania v. Bulgaria. A no-brainer for you: If Team Lithuania gets bounced here, would it be the country’s most ignominious defeat ever? And even if they win, will they get heads together enough to survive Serbia/Slovenia/Spain in game four? BiE fearless prediction: Come on now, it has to be Lithuania here at least, right? Right?