It was a battle from the start but only one team could make Sunday’s final. A third quarter burst move Lithuania past Croatia and into the gold medal game of EuroBasket 2013.
Where did that come from? Linas Kleiza had 17 points and 7 boards in just the first half. The former Toronto Raptor delivered his best half of basketball in recent memory as Lithuania took the early advantage. The edge was slight however. Much of the first half was tit for tat. Lithuania pushed to a 9 point lead briefly but Croatia kept drawing them in. Lithuania had a 24-19 lead at the end of the first quarter, it was 40-37 at the half. This game had offence but neither side could pull away. For Croatia is was Bojan Bogdanovic, a man highlighted as a major threat before this game, who kept them competitive on the scoreboard.
For Jonas Maciulis the job was meant to be one of containment, limiting what Bogdanovic did at the other end but the guard didn’t read the script. Going hard from deep, Maciulis start 4 of 5 from three-point range. The fourth three put Lithuania 48-39 up with 7.01 left in the third. Time-out Croatia at a crucial point in the game. Maciulis was having none of it. In the lane, backs up, bucket and the foul. He made the and-one to push Lithuania into a 12 point lead. Draper missed a three on the next play, Maciulis recovered and Mantas Kalneitis delivered a lay-up at the other end. Croatia tried the press. Alley-oop to Robertas Javtokas. Luka Zoric missed a pair of free throws and Kalneitis nailed another from deep. In three minutes Lithuania had broken the game open to lead 58-40. Timeout Croatia with the gap having doubled in the interim.
And what of Jonas Valanciunas? If it’s possible to be quiet when you have 4 blocks in the first three quarters, the Raptors big man certainly was that. Fouls hindered him but Valanciunas was wise to defer on offensive to those around him. He added one more block in the final frame.
With seconds remaining the camera panned to Aryvdas Sabonis. The icon standing proud and tall, always very tall. After a 10 year absence Lithuania had returned to the final of EuroBasket. Kleiza finished with 22 points and 11 boards, Maciulis had 23 and 6, Kalneitis 18 and 4 assists. They get a day off now to recover for the gold medal game. No matter who they play on Sunday, Lithuania will be underdogs and they’ll be fine with that. No team is more than the sum of its parts than Lithuania. Spain and France have their stars. Lithuania will be happy with their multitude of options.