In a game that saw two teams with serious problems at point guard go head-to-head, the competition in the paint was fierce. The Lithuanian front line of Jonas Valanciunas and Donatas Motiejunas battled hard against the Turkish duo of Omer Asik and Kerem Gonlum. The main difference between the two is one of shooting ability. None of Turkey's bigs are particularly good at shooting outside of the paint, while all of Lithuania's bigs (save for Valanciunas) can shoot from three point range.
That proved to be the difference tonight. While Turkey's players scrapped hard in the lane, they couldn't get consistent production against a Lithuanian front line that was locked into the paint. Meanwhile, Turkey struggled to find a single shooter that could produce for them consistently. Preldzic was his usual self, running the majority of the offense and finding ways to be effective. But his shot never did him any favors, and none of Turkey's other guards could knock down the open shots they were given.
On the other side of the ball, Lithuania's bigs were extremely effective. Jonas Valanciunas was the most usefall all around, anchoring the Lithuanian defense, holding Asik to extremely limited numbers, and posting up for a couple of scores. Donatas Motijunas was similarly involved defensively, though he struggled offensively. On the bench, the Lavrinovic twins were rather effective offensively, spacing the floor with jumpers against the slower Lithuanian bigs. They struggled defensively though, with Darjus specifically allowing a lot of baskets from Kerem Gonlum. I asked Turkey's coach, Ergin Ataman, whether that was part of his strategy after the game. "Yes, of course," Ataman said. "I asked to Kerem Gonlum and also to Omer Asik. Without Valanciunas and Motiejunas, they are not powerful inside. With Lavrinovic. And we try to attack to them. .... Kerem Gonlum played a great game, but they stopped Asik with many fouls. They didn't call the fouls."
Foul calls were a central part of Coach Ataman's post game press conference. Though he acknowledged that his team shot poorly, he reprimanded the referees for allowing too physical of a game.
"Omer Asik played 28 minutes. ... We tried to give him many balls inside. He shot only one time on the free throw line. Only one time. ... Terrible referees."
Ataman went on to complain about the lack of a replay on a critical call at the end of the third quarter. It was an unusually brief statement from Ataman, who normally gives a detailed breakdown of his team's performance.
Nevertheless, it can't be denied that Turkey lost the game as a result of poor shooting. As a team, Turkey took 8 three pointers during the fourth quarter after taking only 10 threes all game. Using a smaller lineup for part of that period got Turkey the shots they wanted, but most of their players were just ice cold. Meanwhile, Lithuania used their size to grab easy points in the paint. In fact, Lithuania would finish the fourth quarter perfect from the field. Appropriately, Asik's time in the fourth was limited, which would partially explain Lithuania's success.
Indeed, the paint was a point of emphasis for the Lithuanian team. After the game, Ksistof Lavrinovic emphasized that rebounding was key in the win. Coach Kazlauskas echoed that sentiment, as well as citing two other areas of particular focus for the Lithuanians in this game. One was shutting down Emir Preldzic, which Kaslauskas deemed to be done sufficiently. The other was playing excellent pick and roll defense, which Kaslauskas said had some "problems".
One thing that I thought Lithuania did particularly well was moving the ball from side to side in the half-court. Turkey would commit a ton of players to defending one side of the paint, and tried to grab turnovers whenever possible. Usually, Lithuania was able to make Turkey's offense commit early, and make an easy swing pass to the weak side for threes. Lithuania did a particularly good job of avoiding turnovers in the third quarter, though they would end up registering more turnovers than assists.
Given that Lithuania is going to go up against either Slovenia or Team USA, both of whom thrive on live ball TOs, it seems like a pertinent issue moving into the semi-finals. I asked coach Kazlauskas whether he thought Lithuania could win in the next round with more turnovers than assists, and what he'd do to address the problem.
"No, we don't want to make those turnovers. But you have to understand that we play the whole time without point guard. We play the whole time with shooting guard. So we make good three point shots, but sure, we're making a lot of turnovers."
At the end of the day, Turkey is a team that had excellent teamwork, excellent defense, and really active coaching. But they simply didn't have enough scorers to be consistently effective against more talented teams. Lithuania is basically the same team, but with better all-around talent. They don't really have a wing that will be utilized as frequently as Preldzic, though, and they're much more prone to share the ball. If they can keep Team USA or Slovenia in a half-court game and avoid turnovers, than the Semi-Finals could definitely be very interesting.
Do you think Lithuania can challenge Team USA? Drop a comment and let us know!