Serbia shocked Lithuania 63-56 in the two teams’ opening game at the 2013 Eurobasket tournament in Slovenia on Wednesday. Serbia had a game plan that they ran to perfection against the heavily favored Lithuanians and Lithuania’s Head Coach Jonas Kazlauskas couldn’t find an adjustment to get his side back on top.
Kazlauskas started the veteran Robertas Javtokas instead of his young star center Jonas Valanciunas and Serbia fed the ball to center Nenad Krstic on their very first offensive possession. Krstic missed his first shot, but he went on to dominate Javtokas from then on. After a made three-pointer, Serbia feed the ball into Krstic for their next three scores as Krstic took the overmatched Javtokas into the post and finished over the top with short hook shots. On his only miss, Krstic controlled the glass and put back his own shot as Javtokas watched helplessly while the Serbs went up 9-5.
Kazlauskas only pulled Javtokas out of the game after he picked up his second personal foul with 4:39 left in the quarter. Valanciunas entered the game and Serbia followed the same plan against the younger player. Krstic wasn’t able to push Valanciunas under the basket for the easy shot on the next possession, but the now very hot Serbian center was able to hit the step back jumper for his eighth point of the quarter. Valanciunas was finally able to get Krstic to miss a shot on his next attempt and Serbia’s center was subbed out for a rest with his team up 13-5.
The first quarter ended with Lithuania down 20-10 with both Valanciunas and Javtokas having picked up two early personal fouls. Kazlauskas subbed out Valanciunas a minute and a half into the second quarter and the game became fast and sloppy very quickly. There was even a series of failed back-to-back-to back fast break attempts that resembled a scene from the Keystone Cops where everything that could go wrong did go wrong. The pace of the game helped Lithuania close to within 6 points by the end of the quarter, but no one was controlling this game during the style of play that seemed to be exactly what Serbia was trying to create. At the half, the score was 33-27 in Serbia’s favor.
Valanciunas started the second half and Lithuania tied the game at 33 on two quick three-point baskets. Serbia immediately went back to isolation plays with Krstic on Valanciunas. Valanciunas effectively defended Krstic on his first attempt in the post, but Serbia went back to Krstic again and the veteran spun around Valanciunas in the post for the score. At the other end, Krstic was able to draw a charge on Valanciunas and Kazlauskas made the mistake of subbing out his big man and hoping his team could recreate their second quarter scoring. Serbia stopped using isolation plays with Krstic with neither Valanciunas nor Javtokas in the game and while the play resembled that of earlier in the game, the Serbs outscored Lithuania 16-8 over the rest of the quarter for a 51-41 lead heading into the final frame.
Valanciunas started the fourth quarter and played Krstic effectively, but Lithuania had gone ice-cold offensively by this time and couldn’t find their big man inside to get any easy points. On the only play in the fourth quarter where Valanciunas received the ball near the post, he made a pretty pass to a cutting Renaldas Seibutis, but Seibutis missed the uncontested layup. That play kind of summed up the evening for Lithuania.
After 3 minutes, Valanciunas picked up his fourth personal foul and was subbed out for the balance of the game. Both teams had looked ugly at the offensive end of the floor for most of this game and Lithuania didn’t have the offensive wherewithal to make a comeback. The game ended 63-56 for Serbia with both teams missing shot after shot down the stretch.
Mantas Kalnietis lead Lithuania with 17 points on 8-11 shooting and Darjusas Lavrinovicius scored 12 points on 5-8 shooting. Jonas Valanciunas finished with just 2 points on 1-1 shooting, 2 rebounds and 4 personal fouls in 11 minutes. Krstic led Serbia with 20 points and 9 rebounds.
Lithuania plays Macedonia on Thursday.
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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