Lithuania were staring a surprise elimination in the face against Georgia in the final game of the Eurobasket second round in Lille before Real Madrid’s Jonas Maciulis literally rescued the Baltic nation from sheer humiliation.
Maciulis paced Lithuania with 34 points on 11/13 shooting and even with his side in desperate need of a lift; the veteran provided it, hitting a triple and a couple of foul shots in the final 10 seconds to propel the Eurobasket 2013 runners-up to victory.
For the thousands of dedicated Lithuanian followers inside the Stade Pierre Mouroy, there were nerves aplenty, caused by a stubborn and solid Georgia unit, until Maciulis decided that enough was enough.
“Maciulis was great all the time he was on the court,” Lithuania coach Jonas Kazlauskas said to TalkBasket in the post-game press conference.
He was great on both defence and offence. Today, for sure he was our best player. I hope that in the next game we will find somebody else. We need more players to help.”
Kazlauskas might have ended his sentence with a jovial smile – but in truth – it was no joke. Lithuania’s Eurobasket campaign has been far from convincing and while on paper they were odds on to beat Georgia comfortably, they were second best for large parts and it was only thanks to Maciulis’ heroics, coupled with some tired errors from the Georgians in the last two minutes that gave the Lithuanians room to work.
Georgia did not deserve to lose.
But despite Lithuania’s performances, the most important statistic is that they have been collecting wins and are in the last eight of Eurobasket, regardless of whether it is deserved or not.
“We’ve dug deep in the last few games, but we are happy to still be here and get ready for our biggest challenge yet as Italy is a strong team with many NBA talents,” Lithuanian forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas commented.