In this one last night, coach Dainius Adomaitis brought out his usual starting 5 of Mantas Kalnietis, Jonas Mačiulis along with the deadly NBA front-court combination of JV and Domas. Instead of his usual sidekick of Renaldas Seibutis however, Mantas Kalnietis started the game in the backcourt with Rokas Giedraitis this time. The beginning of the game saw Lithuania doing what Lithuania does, feeding JV in the post early and often. He got off to a very solid start. Either scoring himself or passing out of the post, Lithuania used their big man to devastating effect against the undersized Finns.
In this game, last night, a good portion of the Finnish national team were foreigners who had obviously been nationalized. It’s safe to say there were a lot of mercenaries and not hardcore nationalists who are playing for their country like you find on team Lithuania. There was very little team chemistry on their side because of this and it showed. Once JV had had his fun and Dainius took him out, Domas continued in his place, filling the void. It is a true luxury for Lithuania to have two elite NBA big men to impose their will inside and it will undoubtedly be a huge factor come the tournament. After one quarter of play, the tone was set, Lithuania was in the driver’s seat 22-9.
The second quarter saw the Green Machine increase their lead, just overwhelming the Finns inside and out. JV continued his reign of terror, by the end of the half he had an efficient 14 points, mostly by shots three feet from the basket or less. When they couldn’t stop him which was every time, they resorted to fouling him. He commanded a double team from the undersized Finns every time, and he is showed tonight that he is also willing and able to pass the ball out of the post to other players on the Lithuanian team who unselfishly keep the ball moving until they find the wide open guy.
Lithuanians demonstrate time and time again the mantra that basketball coaches love, pass up the good shot for the great shot! At times however, I would like to see Lithuanians settle for a slightly less than perfect shot in favor of being more aggressive offensively. This was the way they played early in the second half of game two against Serbia when they went on an amazing run. They are all capable of scoring the ball, even with a bit of opposition from the other team. Sometimes in basketball, you see a small driving lane open up to the basket and you really exploit this by being aggressive and going for it. You are forcing the opponent to commit a foul in order to stop you which can be very useful in the strategic chess game of basketball. Lithuania has mastered the FIBA game like no other, when the other team gets into foul trouble, they definitely use it to their advantage. By the end of the half, Lithuania had expanded their lead to 17 and they went into the locker room feeling pretty good up 40-23.
It was just a bad day to be a Finn!
In basketball, when one team is leading the other by a large margin, you tend to see the losing side tighten the score after the halftime break because they usually rally in the locker room. Not in this case however, the Lithuanians simply did not give them an inch to start the second. Again, it was the JV show(18 points), but there were many other contributions from multiple other sources. This is often the case with team Lithuania, balanced scoring has traditionally been one of the keys to their success. Other players chipped in like Eimantas Bendžius(13 points) and Arnas Butkevičius(8 points), both players who were on coach Dainius Adomaitis “hot seat” and could potentially see a pink slip to go home soon. By the end of three quarters it was getting truly ugly, Lithuania ripped open a 30 point lead and the score was 66-36 going into the final stanza. Although this wasn’t Domas Sabonis best game(9 points), he was still able to get into a decent rhythm tonight.
Adomaitis has been following an unusual but interesting pattern with Domas, always starting him in the first, but typically using him as a “hybrid sixth man”, who comes off the bench to start the second half while he gives another player a chance to throw the other team off with a different playing style. I must say this has been one of the better coaching decisions Dainius has made this season, Domas has played his entire career as a 6th man, and it is somewhat redundant to have him and JV in at the same time when they both do the exact same thing. We will see how this pans out going forward.
The fourth quarter descended into essentially “tryouts” for the Lithuanian national basketball team, with all the remaining bench players who are on the hot seat trying (extremely hard) to stay relevant to avoid getting the axe for the final roster. We saw bench warmers like Žygmantas Janavičius, the third string point guard get to play big minutes tonight. He quite frankly was the only bench player who really didn’t impress although he had 6 garbage time assists. He quite frankly made his case to be cut by the coach when he air-balled a wide open three-pointer late in the game. I really can’t see a way that he will end up on the final roster, despite the fact that Lithuania needs guards badly.
Eimantas Bendžius and Arnas Butkevičius both had very solid games, with Bendžius scoring more, but Butkevičius really providing the defensive spark for the green machine. If the choice came down to picking one or the other for the final roster, I would definitely go with Butkevičius. Aside from the fact that he is a shooting guard and Lithuania needs guards, he is probably one of the most aggressive one-on-one defenders the team has. Often times it is a bench player like him who plays aggressively and will pass this mentality on to the rest of the team. Coach’s very often have the mantra, “defense is contagious”, meaning the attitude spreads throughout the team when one guy gives a good example. Arnas can also score in bunches, not being shy about shooting when open, or driving to the cup whenever there’s an open lane. Although I haven’t seen him play very much, he seems to me like an energy guy on both ends coming off the bench. Someone like this will be incredibly useful!
Eimantas Bendžius, while he is a good player, is frankly not needed as basically an extra power forward on a team that has unbelievable depth in the front court already. His biggest problem is he is just not a guard to be honest.
Martynas Gebenas, who is definitely a third string center behind the two other NBA centers, should stay on the squad in my opinion. He provides defensive energy and good mobility for a big man. It will be very useful to have JV go up against him in practices leading up to the tournament so his game will stay sharp too by having someone challenge him. Also it never hurts to have a good big man in a “glass case” in case of emergency or the unforeseen. In the one game where JV and Domas both sat out and he got to play big minutes versus Spain, he definitely was a net plus for Lithuania.
By the end of this bloodbath, the Lithuanians has avenged the two losses to Serbia in the most brutal and gory fashion against the unsuspecting Finns. Unfortunately for them, they just happened to be in the way when Lithuania wanted to destroy somebody very badly. Nothing personal. The final score was 87:46, an epic loss for the home team.
MY FINAL 12 ROSTER FOR CHINA AND WHY:
Paulius Jankunas (PF)
Jonas Valančiunas (C)
Martynas Gebenas (C)
The three players who have to be cut from the team are, Eimantas Bendžius, Edgaras Ulanovas, and Žygmantas Janavičius.
Obviously, Janavičius has to go. Quite frankly, he lacks confidence and is a very limited player. Even when he had the opportunity to play big minutes like tonight, he failed to impress. He is a very robotic player, not creative at all which you need to be as a point guard, especially on a team like Lithuania who’s main drawback is they lack a lot of individualistic creativity. This of course is subordinated in favor of the great team-cohesion Lithuania brings to international basketball, which in the long run is probably more of an advantage anyway. It is nice however to at least have a couple of guards who can create something out of nothing in iso situations. There are multiple times late in shot clocks when you gotta get a shot off, if you’re not very creative as a ball handler, you won’t score very often in those situations. Bye Žygmantas.
Edgaras Ulanovas has to go too I’m afraid and I know there will be some blowback from this. While he’s definitely not a bad player, he’s really not a good one either. Just a mediocre club player for the Kaunas Žalgiris, a team where he is a fan favorite because he does well against the sub-standard Euro league competition, but really would never make it in the NBA. Lithuania already has PLENTY of elite forwards and centers who have proven themselves in the NBA. They simply don’t need him because they already are super deep as a squad at the forward position and he won’t play minutes anyway. Maybe if he were more of a three-point shooter he could stretch the floor, then they could keep him. He is basically however, just a mediocre version of JV and Domas, a back-to-the-basket, throwback player who won’t have the elite skills necessary when going up against the best in the world. This was proven in his terrible performance against Serbia.
Eimantas Bendžius also has to go home at this time. As I said before, he can shoot and play stretch 4, but there’s no way the coach is going to take away minutes from the likes of Domantas Sabonis, Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Paulius Jankunas to give him playing time. These are Lithuania’s veterans who have all earned their place and will use their experience to help the team. Eimantas is a decent young player and I foresee him making the final roster as soon as Paulius Jankunas and Jonas Mačiulis, both aged veterans, decide to retire. For Mačiulis, that time might be sooner rather than later. Late in the game he had a wide open back-door cut which would have normally been an easy dunk but this time however, he showed his age by not even having enough lift to get close to the basket. In his younger days he would have easily dunked it, but injuries and Father Time have taken their toll. He still will be useful to the team as a crafty veteran who can shoot threes at a high clip, but he is a shell of his former self. Eimantas Bendžius will someday take over for these soon to be retirees.
Overall, the game tonight proved that Lithuania can be a dominant force in international basketball when they put their minds to it. The Serb losses might have ironically been the best thing for them as it “lit a fire” under their butts and gave them the motivation to wreak havoc. The team cohesion was there tonight and the poor Finns had no idea what they were getting themselves into. Guess what die-hard fans, Lithuania is baaaack!!!