It wasn’t just another day of competition for Lithuania, as in Day Four of action the Europeans played Team USA, the overwhelming favorites to win the gold. Team USA was coming off a record setting 83-point victory against Nigeria but yesterday’s game was a different story. Lithuania stayed close the whole game representing the first legit competition Team USA has had to face.
Linas Kleiza kept Lithuania in the game by himself, and continued the trend of being a great international scorer, although he does struggle at the club level. The forward scored 25 points on 10/20 shooting and added five rebounds and three assists. He was a nightmare for the USA defense with his ability to post-up on mismatches, coupled with an in-form outside shot. As for Jonas Valanciunas, the game was just more of the same. He started again and was subbed out at the five minute mark after he committed his first foul. Foul trouble had nothing to do with his playing time; it was the coach starting to rotate his bigs. He missed the first shot of the game but converted on an And1 after an assist by former Duke product, Martinas Pocius.
He sat the rest of the first and the entire second quarter, which was hard to watch. As usual, he started the third period and immediately scored his second basket. He also grabbed a rebound a received a foul until, three and a half minutes in, committed his second and was replaced. Lithuania stayed in the game and Kemzura opted to maintain his veteran line-up. Jonas didn’t see the floor again. He finished with 4 points on 2/4 from the floor, one rebound, two fouls and two turnovers.
In terms of activity, Jonas had a very good game; he was active when he was on the floor battling with the player he’s usually compared to in Tyson Chandler. Chandler is not an offensive weapon so his main job was help defense and trying to keep USA away from the offensive boards. While he was in the game, Chandler grabbed one of USA’s two offensive boards.
Tomorrow, Lithuania will face Tunisia, the weakest team in the Group. Expect Jonas to have more minutes and touches. It’s his biggest opportunity to prove his value and earn more playing time in the quarter finals. Tunisia has a center that surprised a few experts in this tournament. Salah Mejri is a a very athletic 7’1’’ center with a huge wingspan, and a very similar game to Jonas. Mejri is leading the tournament in rebounds and blocks with 9.5 and 3.2 respectively. When he’s not taking long air-balls from the perimeter, Mejri uses his athleticism to finish above the rim.
It will be an interesting match-up in the paint, so, if coach Kemzura decides to give Jonas decent minutes in the next game, maybe we can get a better look at Jonas’ potential. With Russia’s win over Spain, every sign indicate that Lithuania will face David Blatt’s team in the next round.