While the Raptors fan base is still lamenting on Nash’s decision. A key part of the franchise’s future is playing for his last opportunity to get to London. The Olympic qualifier is a short and intense tournament with 12 teams competing for the last three tickets to the Olympic Games. The teams are divided in four groups and the two best records advanced to the Quarter Finals which start on Friday.
There’re a few familiar faces in the tournament such as Greivis Vasquez from the Hornets representing hosts Venezuela and JJ Barea, Carlos Arroyo and Renaldo Balkman from Puerto Rico, amongst others. The Dominican Republic, coached by John Calipari, is led by Al Horford, the leading scorer of the tournament after the group stage with 26 ppg and by a guy named Yack Michael Martinez, a Caribbean version of Ben Wallace who pulled down 25 rebounds in the opener.
Russia, one of the big boys, is led by Andrei Kirilenko and Viktor Khryapa. Nuggets’ center Timofez Mozgov suffered an injury in the start of the third day and combo-guard Alexey Shved, who has been linked to the Cavs, Timberwolves and Grizzlies, is battling the flu.
The Raptors are represented in the Lithuanian squad. After having the opening day off, Lithuania debuted against the hosts getting an easy win by 18. Linas Kleiza had a brilliant game with 28 points on 11-16 shooting. Jonas Valanciunas started for his team but battled the foul ending up with 5 points and 1 rebound in 9 minutes. Note that it is impressive for a 20-year old player to start in such a talented and traditional national team. In the second game of their schedule, Lithuania faced Nigeria, a team with a few familiar names such as Al-Farouq Aminu, former George Mason PG Tony Skinn and former 9th pick Ike Diogu. Valanciunas had much more playing time as the only big on the court because coach Kemsura opted for a 4-1 formation. Jonas played 23 minutes off the bench, scored 10 points with 5 rebounds and blocked a shot.
In the beginning of the fourth, Valanciunas was key to Lithuania’s comeback from 11 down. He scored four straight points (both on pick ‘n rolls), blocked a shot, caused a turnover under his own basket after a defensive rebound, which resulted in an And1.
A huge alley-up with Sarunas Jasikevicius with 3 minutes left cut the lead. The PG threw a very high pass that Jonas caught and dunked in an impressive show of athleticism, length and good hands. Kleiza, did his damage in the first and third quarter and finished with 22 points on 11 shots, leading his team in scoring once again. He has the second best scoring average in the tournament behind Horford. Greivis Vasquez was third. It was a very controversial ending to the game after Lithuania decided not to foul with 20 seconds on the clock and down six.
Due to the unexpected loss against Nigeria, Group B was decided by a tiebreaker between the three teams that had Lithuania first with the best point differential, Nigeria second and Venezuela eliminated. In the quarterfinals Lithuania will face Arroyo and Barea’s team, Puerto Rico, while the other games are: Greece – Nigeria, Russia – Angola and Dominican Republic – Macedonia. The winners of the quarter finals will face in the semi on Saturday. The tournament will not have a champion because the teams that win the semifinals will return home. The true deciding match is the Bronze Medal game that will decide the last ticket.