Lithuania looked to improve to 3-1 on the tournament as they faced Montenegro (1-2). This game featured a matchup of two promising big men; (our beloved) Jonas Valanciunas and Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic.
Lithuania elected to bring Jonas Valanciunas off the bench in favour of two floor spacing bigs. This worked well as they started off the game with two pick and pop threes from Jonas’s replacement.
However, it quickly became apparent that they were less than adequate on defense. Montenegro took most of their shots at or near the rim and Lithuania struggled to corral defensive rebounds. One of the bigs racked up 3 fouls in five minutes and was replaced by Jonas. The Montegerins shot chart looked like the following (they’re on the right):
Valanciunas was matched up against Nikola Vucevic. The two big men went back and forth; Vucevic stopped Jonas in the post (nearly forcing a turnover, resulted in a kick-out) and Valanciunas blocked Vucevic at the rim.
The Montenegrins (yes, that’s correct) switched to more pick and roll/pops which forced Jonas to step outside the paint. As a result, he was out of position on many rebounding opportunities and he failed to grab a single rebound in the first. The game was tied at 19 after one.
Both teams struggled to score to begin the second quarter. Lithuania spent most of its offensive possessions outside the three-point line while Montenegro played a more inside-out game with their bigs. Eventually, the Lithuanian bigs (not including JV) found a rhythm, and they found each other on a few nice back-door cuts.
Since his replacements were playing so well, the Lithuanian head coach elected to keep Jonas on the bench for an extended period of time. When he was in the game, Jonas posted up once but was too deep under the basket and subsequently missed the shot. Overall, it was a pretty rough half for Jonas as he finished with 0 points in 9 minutes of play and he was a -6. Montenegro led 34-32 going into halftime.
The Lithuanians began the third with a concerted effort to get Valanciunas the ball on offense. He received a nice entry pass from Kleiza and was fouled (sunk both). He also scored two dunks; one via the pick-and-roll, and another on a smart cut to the basket.
A scary moment occurred when Jonas landed awkwardly on an offensive rebound attempt. He appeared to have rolled his right ankle and had to come out of the game (on his own volition). He got it re-tapped and returned to the game two minutes later. He did not seem bothered by his ankle.
The offense really flourished with Valanciunas in the game. Not only did he draw the attention of defenders (sometimes double-teams), he also set great screens on pick-and-rolls, and on one occasion, he managed to seal off two defenders which led to a wide-open dunk. Lithuania stormed ahead to take the lead at 51-47 going into the final frame.
4th Quarter and Overtime
Valanciunas struggled on defense in the fourth quarter. He was out-muscled by his man and allowed far too many offensive rebounds. He also showed poor positioning as he failed to box-out/was boxed-out on a number of occasions.
The game came down to the wire. With thirty seconds left, Lithuania held the lead at 63-60. Montenegro managed to grab three consecutive offensive rebounds as Jonas was pinned under the basket and the Lithuanian defense was scrambling for position. Finally, on the fourth shot of the possession, the Montenegrin point guard nailed a three with about ten seconds left in the game. With time running out, Lithuania went to their point guard for the game winning basket. He promptly missed on a step-back jumper and the game stretched into overtime.
Both teams went back and forth in the extra frame. Lithuania scored on an “and-1”, and Montenegro immediately countered with a three of their own. Jonas set a great screen which led to a made three-pointer. He also managed to catch the ball deep in the post and finish a left-handed layup in traffic against two defenders.
Eventually Lithuania pulled away. They sunk a three to put themselves up 5 with a minute left. Montenegro came storming back down the court but their shot was challenged by Valanciunas which led to a miss and a defensive rebound for Jonas. He was subsequently fouled and he made both free throws to seal the game.
Final score: 77-70 for Lithuania
Jonas finished the game with 12 points on 4/5 shooting from the floor and 4/4 shooting from the line. He grabbed 10 rebounds (3/7) and blocked two shots in 29 minutes. He was called for 3 fouls and drew 2. He was a game high +12 (tied with Maculis of Lithuania).
The first half was pretty rough for Valanciunas. He scored zero points (0/1 FG). He was doubled in the post and was forced to kick it out for a reset. He was unable to physically overpower his defenders and struggled to get to his preferred hand (his right).
He came to life in the second half, especially when Lithuania made a concerted effort to get him the ball. He scored in the post and dunked a few times off nice passes from his teammates. He wasn’t necessarily imposing but he did draw extra defenders to him. Unfortunately, in their overzealousness to get him the ball, many bad passes were thrown which led to a number of turnovers.
Jonas set some great screens and did a good job sealing his man. He did a good job freeing up his teammates with his screens and showed improve timing when rolling to the rim (something that wasn’t the case in earlier games). He also showed the strength and awareness to seal his man in the post a few times, leaving a wide-open lane for his teammates to score. He didn’t register an assist on the game, but he definitely provided some positive benefits for his teammates on offense.
Jonas was inconsistent on the defensive end. He lacked the strength to hold his ground on post-ups, but he did manage to challenge and change shots at the rim. He blocked two shots (including one of Vucevic’s attempts) and by my count, he “altered” 3 other shot attempts, including one in overtime to seal the game.
I’d like to point out that he failed to box out on numerous occasions. Despite leading his team in rebounding (10), the Montenegrins managed to grab a whopping 19 offensive rebounds and second-chance points allowed them to push the game into overtime. Jonas needs to do a better job boxing out further from the rim. He really struggles to corral long rebounds generated from three-pointers and long jumpers.
Houston’s Motiejunas saw only 3 minutes of floor time in today’s game. He and Valanciunas formed a potent offensive duo in earlier games. I’m not quite sure why he was nailed to the bench today. That being said, Lithuania did have three bigs perform admirably today, so perhaps the coach just wanted to ride the hot hand(s).
Valanciunas’ free throw attempts looked better in today’s game. The shots had more arc to them, which could just be a product of him finally regaining his energy (Lithuania had played on three consecutive days).
Finally, Jonas tweaked his ankle in the third quarter. He managed to return to the game after getting it tapped and looked spry throughout the rest of the game. However, it’s worth keeping an eye on the situation; the Eurobasket schedule is unrelenting and he might be counted on by the team to play through a potential injury.
Lithuania’s next game will be played on Monday at 11:45 AM (EST). They will be facing Bosnia and Herzegovina (2-2). The game can be found on ESPN3.Follow @raptorsrepublic