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2012 Olympic Basketball: Russia Outlasts Rival Lithuania, 83-74

This dunk was against Brazil, but Timofey Mozgov was pretty much doing this all game.
This dunk was against Brazil, but Timofey Mozgov was pretty much doing this all game.

Russia 83, Lithuania 74

Russia looked strong coming into the tournament, but as everyone knows, even on a down year, you can never count out Lithuania. They don't have a single marquee win to their resume in 2012, but everyone knew that they had the potential to upset Russia coming into this game. Both teams played similar styles, and Lithuania was playing on the 20th anniversary of their historic defeat of Russia in the 1992 Olympic Bronze Medal Match, shortly after independence.

The game started off very slow, but it was clear Russia had the advantage. Lithuania was turning the ball over frequently, and weren't hitting any threes. Their main asset in the first half, and their savior throughout this entire tournament, was Darius Songaila. He had 10 points at half-time, and did a good job of sneaking behind the Russian defense for easy buckets.

However, Russia's lead was very slim, because they hit an incredibly low 5-14 free throws, and they settled for way too many jump shots. David Blatt was admonishing them in the huddle for doing so, which would pretty much explain the marked change of strategy in the third: Just give it to Mozgov. He looked unstoppable early in the second half, running the same pick and roll play for easy points at least four times.

Lithuania didn't give up the good fight though, and when Russia went small and started to trap, Lithuania took full advantage. They found open space in the lane and hit a few floaters, and they passed around for some open threes. Before long, it was a tight game in the fourth, with the Russians only being down by two in the early going.

While I do credit the Lithuanians for defending the Russians admirably in the fourth, they just weren't able to score when they absolutely needed it. They got to the line and hit a few nice shots, but there was no real X-Factor in the game who could give them something beyond that. Linas Kleiza was having a bad night, and those that were having a good night, Rimantas Kaukenas and Mantas Kalnietis, are mostly role players, and aren't know for their ability to take over a game. Sarunas Jasikevicus, the historical leader of Lithuania in his last Olympics, was sitting on the bench. You could say it was well-deserved, since he did have 6 turnovers in 19 minutes, but still, I could imagine the tides turning if he was in the game.

On the Russian side, I really have to credit this win to Sergey Monya. He scored 8 of his 10 points in the fourth, and two of his buckets came back-to-back right after Russia's lead was decreased to two. Anton Ponkrashov was also essential during this period, dishing three assists and scoring four points in the fourth.

With the win, Russia advances to the Quarter-Finals to take on the winner of France-Spain. With the loss, Lithuania goes home, and will be seen next at the 2013 Eurobasket in Spain.

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