Lithuania were shaky to start with, but once they found their rhythm in the second half, were comfortable against a very disappointing France team.
The defence against French NBA-duo Tony Parker and Nicholas Batum was evident. Lithuania had a game plan to dilute the threat of the two, and it worked. Parker was 4/8 from the field, overall shooting a good percentage [50 percent], but the stats do not tell the entire story. Lithuania limited his options, offensively and in stages wore the San Antonio Spurs guard down.
The Lithuanians were patient, the whole team contributed and it was a key factor to their deserved triumph.
“We did a great job on defence,” Lithuania coach Jonas Kazlauskas said at the post-game press conference.
“We know the average for the French team was 80 points, today and stopped them on 62 and for sure to stop [Tony] Parker is very difficult, we were trying to do like play on him, not someone individual and this worked and this a key to our victory.”
“The key mainly was to stop Tony Parker,” Lithuania’s Jonas Valanciunas said. “You know that he’s a really good player and he can give a lot for the team, not just with the points but with the ball moving, but I think we stopped him tonight.”
France have other options on offence if Parker isn’t feeling it, that is in the shape of Nicholas Batum – but even he was off. Held to just eight points on 3/10 shooting was way below what he is usually capable of, especially in international competition – where he is called upon a little more than he is in the NBA.
Take nothing away from Lithuania though. The game plan worked, and the rest took care of itself. It took a while for them to get going, but they were patient, hardly rushed their possessions; a testament to how Kazlauskas prepares his side plus the back door cuts they ran leading to easy baskets inside was flawless. The buckets were uncontested, just how they planned it, and just how they rehearsed it.
The improvement was for all to see in Jesenice, but a season with the Toronto Raptors has turned Valanciunas from a bit-part player with the national team in 2011, to an inside beast in Ljubljana. 13 points and six rebounds. Still preferred off the bench, but he doesn’t mind that.
“I’m trying to grow up like a player every game, every day,” he said. “I feel much more comfortable then before two years ago [at Eurobasket 2011], I’m trying to improve every day.”
It is still early days; the second round is only a day old. The privilege these guys have now is that they have more a slightly more relaxed schedule, games-wise, but France will go back to the drawing board and find a way to get better. This happened on the opening day against Germany, and in the next game against Great Britain, we saw a different French side, ruthless at both ends of the court and as a result they won the remaining four games in the group. They are still 2/1 in Group E and have Latvia in the final game of the day on Friday. There’s no need to hit the panic button just yet.
Lithuania can be proud of this win. They stuck to the plan and it worked.
Photo courtesy of FIBA Europe