Taking on top-ranked and unbeaten Serbia in the Eurobasket 2015 semi-finals, Lithuania was in tough if they wanted to get to the Gold Medal game and a guaranteed Olympic berth in Rio. However, once again Jonas Valanciunas led his team in scoring with 15 points and 4 blocked shots as Lithuania knocked off Serbia 67-64 in a hard-fought defensive battle.
Valanciunas has become an offensive force for Lithuania this summer using his size and length to dominate offensively and on the glass, however, far too often he has been substituted out of games for defensive purposes as described by Basketnews in their pregame write-up.
Jonas Valanciunas, the only Lithuanian player from an NBA team at the European Championship already has four double-doubles. Valanciunas is criticized for defense, but his offense is the main weapon of the Lithuanian national team. After the monstrous appearance against the Italians he has averaged 17.2 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. (rough abbreviated translation)
Against Serbia, the game was tough, physical and defensively-oriented and Valanciunas was held to just 26.5 minutes despite his impact at both ends of the court. The big center shot 5-6 from the field and 5-6 from the free throw line, but he picked up 4 personal fouls (5 fouls and you’re out by FIBA rules). He had to play defense in this contest.
Serbia epitomizes the tough physical games that FIBA basketball is known for and their own star big man and leading scorer Nemanja Bjelica fouled out. Recently signed by the Minnesota Timberwolves, the 27-year-old Bjelica was held to just 10 points on 3-8 shooting and Valanciunas surprised Bjelica by blocking his shot twice during the same possession.
“Before EuroBasket 2013 they were saying we had a good team but not great players. When we reached the semi-finals in 2014 [at the FIBA Basketball World Cup] they said we had an easy schedule. I don’t know what they will say now.” – Lithuanian head coach Jonas Kazlauskas
Lithuania will play Spain for Gold in the Eurobasket final on Sunday.