Jonas Valanciunas continued his strong play at EuroBasket 2015 in helping Lithuania defeat Serbia in the semifinals 67-64. Lithuania will now take on Spain in the Final, but more importantly, they've now joined the Spaniards in clinching a spot in the group stages of the Olympic basketball tournament.
Here's Olympic field after Lithuania's win over Serbia. FIBA Asia championship game (Oct. 3) determines Team No. 9. pic.twitter.com/F0a9IjHVDb— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) September 18, 2015
Serbia came into this game undefeated, and had a tournament leading plus/minus at +79 in the group stages. With Milos Teodosic and Nemanja Bjelica leading the way, the Serbians were comfortably favoured over Lithuania, who themselves had an up and down performance in the group stages. In defeating Italy and Serbia in back to back knockout games, Lithuania continues to outperform what anyone could expect out of a country of 3 million people.
Lithuania held a narrow lead almost from wire to wire. Considering that it took a perfect storm of timely performances by Lithuania's stars and a no-show from Serbia. It's really a testament to Serbia's quality as a basketball power that they managed to keep the game so close with so many of their big guns misfiring. Bjelica only shot 3-of-8, Bogdanovic 4-of-12, Raduljica 2-of-7 and Teodosic 4-of-11. Lithuania relied on the performances of Valanciunas (15 points, 3 rebs, 4 blocks), Mantas Kanietis (12 points, 9 assists), and Mindaugas Kuzminskas (13 points, 9 rebs) to put them over the top.
For Valanciunas, this game reaffirmed what we already know about him -- good and bad. He's potent posting up and in the pick and roll, and ultra-efficient with the ball in his hands (he shot 5-of-6 on the night). Defensively, his ability to stay vertical is impressive, and he's generally a good post-defender when not overwhelmed athletically. He held Raduljica to 2-of-7 shooting, and that included a sequence where JV blocked him twice in a row and proceeded to hit him with a Dikembe finger-wag. That was awesome.
Unfortunately, his weaknesses are still very apparent. Serbia was able to get their fair share of offence going when pushing the pace and forcing Valanciunas to move his feet right after changing ends. While Valanciunas is a good defender when he has time to use his verticality, he's still lacking instincts in preventing baskets weak-side by anticipating when the help will be needed. He also added 0 assists and had a couple of his three turnovers when trying to pass the ball back out of the post. So in general, both strengths and weaknesses are par for the course for JV.
As an aside, this mucks up the pre-qualifying tournament next summer as two more powerful teams have been added to the pool in France and Serbia.
Quick update on the Olympic qualifying tournaments after Czech Rep. W over Latvia today. pic.twitter.com/bNxYNCiPc7— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) September 18, 2015
Today's other big loser: Canada. Another strong team in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament.— Danny Leroux (@DannyLeroux) September 18, 2015
France & Serbia were Eurobasket's two best teams through Wednesday. Both lost in the semis w/ Olympic bids on the line.— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) September 18, 2015
Four of the five teams added to the pre-qualifying tournament from Europe are Greece, Italy, France and Serbia. With only three spots available, the qualification for the Olympics will be an absolute war.
One more game remains for Valanciunas and Lithuania, as they'll take on Pau Gasol and Spain on Sunday. Those two had some close battles last year, so an inspired Gasol will good litmus test to see if and how far JV has progressed