Lithuania defeated Montenegro 77-70 in an overtime thriller on Sunday. Seldom used veteran forward Ksistof Lavrinovic scored 24 points on 9-11 shooting and it was Lithuania’s young star Jonas Valanciunas that looked like the forgotten man in Head Coach Jonas Kazlauskas’ rotation initially.
The 33-year-old twins Darijus and Ksistof Lavrinovic got the unexpected start. Neither player had seen more than 20 minutes of action in a game. Ksistof had only played a total of 13 minutes and was 0-7 for the tournament. However, Kazlauskas must have suspected something about the matchups as the brothers led Lithuania to a quick 10-3 lead and scored their team’s first 12 points. Kazlauskas explained why Lavrinovic started today in the FIBA game report.
“Our best player, [Linas] Kleiza, is a little too small. We saw how Montenegro attacked [Mirza] Teletovic from this position. We were trying to save Kleiza from this and that’s why we started Lavrinovic,” said Kazlauskas.
“[Ksistof Lavrinovic] was incredible today. He didn’t play a lot in the last games, but he led us today,” point guard Mantas Kalnietis said.
The pace was fast, but as quickly as the Lavrinovics scored, they were giving up points at the other end just as easily and the first quarter ended in a 19-19 tie. Ksistof continued scoring in the second quarter, but Valanciunas only had 1 shot in the first half and rarely saw the ball. This hasn’t been the formula for Lithuania’s success at the Eurobasket and the team found themselves down 34-32 to Montenegro at the half.
The second half started out the way Lithuania usually enjoys success. Three trips through the paint for Valanciunas resulting in 2 free throws and 2 dunks. Add in an open Linas Kleiza jump shot and Lithuania had taken the lead.
A re-energized Valanciunas also provided some badly needed rim protection, adding a pair of blocked shots to go with his 8 third quarter points. By the time this game was over, Valanciunas had his second consecutive double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
However, Montenegro refused to go quietly in this game and the newly signed Maccabi Tel Aviv guard Tyrese Rice hit a game-tying three-pointer to force overtime. In overtime it was Darijus Lavrinovic who it the three-pointer to put Lithuania up by 5 points and Valanciunas sunk a pair of free throws to take the game out of reach at the end.
Rice scored 19 points on 7-15 shooting for Montenegro and Magic center Nikola Vucevic scored 8 points and collected 5 rebounds in 13.5 minutes of work. It wasn’t clear why Vucevic was nailed to the bench at the end of this game.
Lithuania plays Bosnia and Herzegovina on Monday.
Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre. A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report.
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