After losing 78:70 to a tough Spanish team, Lithuanian basketball team bounced back tonight with a vengeance, crushing Finland 80:60 (26:18, 15:13, 26:13, 13:16).
While missing most of their heavy artillery against Spain in Pamplona, tonight Lithuania brought out some, but not all of their big guns. The starting 5 consisted of some of the usual suspects Lithuania has relied on in the past like Mantas Kalnietis, Renaldas Seibutis, Jonas Mačiulis and Paulius Jankūnas.
This time, however, they added the NBA star power in the middle with Domantas Sabonis. Lithuania started off well, gaining an early lead off Mačiulis 3’s and Kalnietis drives to the basket. The score after one quarter was 26-18, with the green guys firmly in the driver seat. Surprisingly, Sabonis was much more of a passer than a scorer early on, getting a couple of nice assists to teammates by passing out of the post. That unselfish attitude, while great to see, didn’t last forever.
Despite a run sparked by the hot 3-point shooting of the Finns that closed the gap on Lithuania in the second, once they put Domas back in and he started going to work inside for real, it was over for the guests. The last play of the first half was an epic statement by the son of Lithuanian basketball royalty. On an inbound play with 8 seconds to go in the half, Domas seemingly comes out of nowhere to get the steal and finishes with a monstrous dunk on the surprised Finns.
Lithuania took a commanding 10 point halftime lead after that. After the break, Dainius Adomaitis decided to shake things up by bringing in an almost entirely different starting 5 with Marius Grigonis , Lukas Lekavičius, Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Adas Butkevičius to surround Sabonis with all athletic and quick players. This gamble really paid off! Adomaitis stumbled upon an “efficient five” or “death lineup” as it is better known in the NBA.
The best 5 players on the team, all playing together at the exact same time for maximum effect, usually during crunch time. Perhaps these were not the best 5 players on the entire team, but their chemistry to start the second half was unbelievable. Mindaugas Kuzminskas, who’s no stranger to the NBA, played in a beautiful tandem-like symphony orchestra with the younger Sabonis. This half, instead of deferring, Domas really went berserk and attacked the rim, scoring early and often. This was the catalyst that led Lithuania to rip open the 20-point lead in the 3rd quarter.
The rest of the game Coach Adomaitis mixed and matched younger players with veterans like some kind of happy chef. It really didn’t matter who he put in, Lithuania was firmly in control the rest of the way. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the fourth quarter was who was absent rather than who played.
Mantas Kalnietis, the pre-supposed leader of team Lithuania, someone who was the absolute hero in the silver medal performance in 2015, was nowhere to be found. With the exception of a couple of baskets off the dribble early on, the rest of the game he went scoreless and in fact was a net minus to the team.
It was brutal to watch him pull up for a three-pointer late in the first half and have it be a complete airball. His turnovers, which are nothing new to Lithuanian basketball fans, reared their ugly head once again which led to the only run for Finland in the game in the second quarter.
1) Lukas Lekavičius is playing well and building confidence. While Mantas Kalnietis still has value to team LT, maybe it’s time he moved to be the captain of the bench unit and let Lukas start. Lukas fits better with the starters because he can dribble penetrate deep into the opponent territory in the paint and dish off to Domas, Jonas or other weapons Lithuania has a multitude of inside. He is much quicker than the elder Kalnietis, who still could be extremely useful off the bench, providing a scoring punch when the offense wanes with the younger, less experienced players.
2) Domantas Sabonis and Mindaugas Kuzminskas were an ultra-efficient tandem tonight. Prior to this point, there has been very little sample size with the two of them playing together. From the small(but bigger)sample size after they played together tonight, I’m amazed at what I’ve seen!
People forget Mindaugas Kuzminskas is currently hitting his prime and was also an NBA player. Domas and Mindas might become quite the one-two punch for Lithuania in this tourney. When the two were in the game together at the start of the second half, the green machine absolutely wiped the floor with the Finns. This is a duo to keep an eye on, definitely glad Dainius Adomaitis changed things up and tried it out at the beginning of the second.
3) with JV coming soon to a friendly match near you, Lithuania will be completely ready to unleash the firepower inside that make them the most feared frontcourt in the tournament! How Dainius Adomaitis manages minutes is perhaps the most important thing to worry about going forward. While Lithuanians are well-known for subordinating personal stats for the greater good of the team, the two NBA players might have picked up some bad habits playing in America in the egocentric culture.
Overall there’s plenty of positives for Lithuania to hang their hat on after tonight’s win, the next match against an elite Serbian team in Belgrade will be a much bigger test that hopefully they will be ready to pass!