If you had told a basketball fan about today’s Spain-Lithuania Eurobasket second-round matchup two weeks, he/she might have figured it to be one of the tournament’s most interesting games.
It still is, of course, but for the exact opposite reason one may have expected.
In one corner is Team Spain, a bunch of household names with an insane inability to finish games. Against Turkey on Saturday, it was a ho-hum, more-of-the-same performance from the Spanish defense which allowed easy point after easy point in the paint. Ersan Ilyasova, Omer Asik and Semih Erden all contributed to beating that Lakers dude and the rest underneath, tuckering out the team enough to allow Turkey’s guards to put Spain away in the fourth quarter – another defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.
All the worst-case scenarios are coming to fruition for Spain: In the past, the team has been chastised for a general low stamina, for not finishing games. For years in the NBA, Pau was labeled “soft,” “especially in last year’s finals against the Boston Celtics”; well, nothing says soft like doing a scarecrow impression in front of another Asik jam. Ricky Rubio is now universally billed as unripened and “not ready to play in the NBA”: The young one’s 2-of-11 three-point shooting and 62.5 percent success from the free-throw line in this tournament attest to that fact.
In the other corner is Lithuania, not quite as highly regarded as the likes of pre-tournament favorites Spain and Greece but still amid the top of the odds table going into the Eurobasket 2009.
Sure, many names of the recent past – Sarunas Jasikevicius, Ramunas Siskauskas, Rimantas Kaukenas and Darius Songaila – were known to be taking a pass on this tourney, but Team Lithuania had plenty of time to prepare, a roster full of names heading by the exciting Linas Kleiza, and just that Lithuania mojo that has gotten this team into the final eight in six of the last seven Eurobaskets.
Plus, the team looked fantastic in tuning up and beating up on unready opponents this summer, culminating in a 30-point win over Spain on the eve of Eurobasket. Things looked good for the somewhat overlooked Team Lithuania.
But noooooooooooooo! Instead, the Lithuanians have forgotten everything they ostensibly knew going into Eurobasket 2009. They’ve committed 14.5 turnovers per game – “good” for second-worst among remaining teams to Ricky and the boys – and have become proficient at spotting opponents huge leads. (Come on, going down by 23 to Poland in the third quarter?)
While the frontcourt play of Kleiza, Marijonas Petravicius and Simas Jasitis has been competent – good, even – the guards have been miserable and shooting from everybody terrible. At 6-of-16 from the floor, Robertas Javtokas’ poor play is topped by his incredible one for 10 at the charity stripe. Tomas Delininkaitis and Mindaugas Lukauskis are jacking up threes at a 6-for-25 rate and have contributed a combined eight points from the floor.
Particularly atrocious for Team Lithuania has been the play off the bench – no matter who’s on it with the ever-changing rotations employed in this tourney – underscoring the thinness caused by the departure of so many stalwarts.
Jasaitis’ summary? “I don’t understand what happened with our team. You ask me about it, but I have no answer.” You said it, mano draugas.
BiE fearless prediction: Lithuania, but only because the team faces elimination and I need the points for my La Porra game.
In other games today:
Slovenia v. Poland. Though Poland enters the game on a two-game losing streak, Maciej Lampe and the guys continue to play above expectations with an excellent fourth quarter against Serbia on Saturday, mostly thanks to the bench. (Who knew Team Poland was bringing such depth?)
Slovenia has handled its competition very well, though a big win against Lithuania means little as of late – recall, too, that Poland took out Lithuania a few days ago, too. BiE fearless prediction: Poland wins, because they’ve got the home crowd, they’re due, and again, La Porra points.
Serbia v. Turkey. Commented reader Ben after a recent “Fearless Predictions” column in which Ball in Europe went against Turkey: “Everybody has to stop overlooking Turkey in all sports. basketball team was 6th in the last world champs, received silver before in European and has been solid in many other competitions. It is not justice to keep calling a surprise package. Turkish basketball is in the Ivy League of the world basket. … Wake up and smell the Turkey!”
Ben, man, you’re right, but BiE did acknowledge Team Turkey the day after another convincing win over Spain. And objectively speaking, who would have reckoned Turkey to be *this* good, especially with Hedo Turkoglu mostly (properly, as it turns out) in the statistical background – particularly after so-what play in the Efes Pilsen World Cup?
BiE fearless prediction: So with Turkey on a roll, we’ll say – wait a minute, what’s this from Ben? “Hey also, whoever is predicting games for this site really is not successful, makes you wonder. It is time to get real.” Actually, the record shows BallinEurope predictions to have gone 21-12 (or 63.6%) thus far – respectable, if i say so myself, given some of the craziness in this tournament. Serbia wins in a close one.