There is something almost lyrical about the idea of Jonas Valanciunas and Andrea Bargnani facing off in a game of basketball. To many the matchup is merely a meeting of a large Lithuanian and a tall Italian. But to Toronto Raptors fans, it is the basketball past against its present and future.
Basketball-starved as you are, I have no doubt you're aware of the ongoing European basketball mashup happening right now in the form of the EuroBasket 2015 tournament. Time change be damned, this is thrilling stuff. We're into the semi-finals now with France taking on Spain in a battle of Euro (and NBA) legends, Tony Parker and Pau Gasol. The other side of the bracket features Serbia taking on Valanciunas' Lithuania. Yesterday, Lithuania downed Italy 95-85 to advance. Despite Italy's run providing us with indelible images like this, this outcome feels correct.
Like ships passing in the night, Andrea and Jonas played together that one magical season in 2012-13. The Raptors traded for Rudy Gay, went 34-48 and finished tenth in the conference. Admittedly, it'll take a few years before epic songs are sung of this particular season. It was Valanciunas' rookie year and Bargnani's final go-around with the Raptors. Since then the big men of Raptors lore have met only four times despite playing in the same division. (Bargs had been injured on the Knicks a lot.) The Raptors have gone 3-1 in those games, losing once by a mere five points. But Bargnani has actually outscored Jonas in those four games (65 to 58) while getting not-so-surprisingly out-rebounded by a wide margin (46 to 21). These totals and outcomes feel correct.
In their quarterfinal game yesterday, it was Valanciunas who led the way for Lithuania. He finished with 26 points and 15 rebounds, compared to Bargnani's 21 points (to lead Italy) and five boards. Italy is out of the tournament, Lithuania moves on to the aforementioned semi-final match against Serbia. Jonas and Andrea will not meet again until January 6, 2016 when the Raptors visit Brooklyn. To understand the respective places of these two now, I turn to the official EuroBasket game report to summarize the game:
Turning Point: With 3:56 remaining to the end of the extra session, Danilo Gallinari tipped the ball in following an Andrea Bargnani miss to tie the scores for the ninth time on the night, 81-all.
For Italy, the turning point was a Bargnani miss. Raptors fans nod.
Game Hero: Jonas Valanciunas lost some battles under the rim and did not always make the right decisions on the defensive end but was tremendously efficient and pulled off the big plays when it mattered.
And the game hero for Lithuania was Valanciunas. Somehow, this above excerpt summarizes the young man's entire career to this point.
Both quotes feel correct.
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