Lithuania emerged victorious 67-64 from an agonisingly fierce semi-final battle with previously undefeated Serbia on Friday night and will face Spain in the EuroBasket 2015 title game in Lille.
Turning Point: After an off-balance Milos Teodosic triple reduced Lithuania's lead to 65-64 with 14 seconds on the clock, Serbia fouled Renaldas Seibutis. The Lithuanian guard made the first but missed the second free-throw, Bogdan Bogdnanovic came up with the rebound and charged ahead for the coast-to-coast but missed the lay-up in traffic. Kalnietis grabbed the ball, was promptly fouled and, with 5 seconds remaining, he split his free-throws to make it 67-64. Jonas Maciulis intercepted a forced Teodosic pass, denying Serbiathe chance to fire off a desperation shot at the buzzer.
Stats Don't Lie: Serbia came into this game averaging 13 points on the fast break and at least a dozen more in secondary transition but Lithuania slowed down the pace just like they wanted and gave up a mere two points on the fast-break throughout this entire gripping clash. Serbia were not allowed to space the floor as they had done in every previous game in this tournament, shot the ball poorly and the compact Lithuanian defence controlled the battle on the glass 40 to 29 to take away Serbia's cushion of second-chance points.
Game Hero: Mantas Kalnietis committed eight turnovers and in any other semi-final he would have probably been burned on the stake for that, but he embodied Lithuania's fighting spirit for every single second of the 37 minutes he spent on the floor and made up for the mistakes with much more than his 13 points and nine assists suggest. Mindaugas Kuzminskas, who is often mistaken for a dispassionate player on such a fiery team, delivered one of his best games in a Lithuanian jersey and contributed everywhere on the floor.
Bottom Line: Lithuania would not have reached so far were it not for the fact that they add up to much more than the sum of their parts in this tournament and have deservedly earned a second consecutive trip to the EuroBasket final. This time they will take on Spain rather than France, in a replay of the 2003 final which saw the Baltic nation celebrate gold. Serbia have paid a high price for their first defeat in the tournament and will play against hosts France, the other team that had reached the semi-finals unbeaten, in the bronze medal game.
They Said: "To beat Serbia with 20 turnovers and shooting 2-of-14 from three, is something unbelievable" - Lithuania head coach Jonas Kazlauskas.
|Mantas Kalnietis will not so much be expected to shut down Milos Teodosic, but rather restrict the damage he can inflict|
A spot in the EuroBasket 2015 title bout against Spain as well as an automatic ticket to the 2016 Rio Olympics are up for grabs when basketball powers Serbia and Lithuania exchange blows in the second Semi-Final at Pierre Mauroy Stadium.
Record: Serbia WWWWWWW v Lithuania WWLWWWW
Serbia remain undefeated in the tournament, looking to become the first perfect European champions since Lithuania won all six games in 2003. The Serbs are also shooting for their first EuroBasket final since finishing second in 2009 and a victory would get the Balkan country into the Olympics for the first time under the flag of Serbia.
Lithuania's only loss in the tournament came during Group D action at the buzzer against Belgium. The 2013 runners-up Lithuania are battle-tested from a number of close games, five of them being decided by five points or fewer. If the Baltic country can get back to the final, it would secure them their sixth top-two finish in Europe, including the titles in 1937, 1939 and 2003. A victory would also lock up Lithuania's seventh straight trip to the Olympics.
Key Match-Up: Milos Teodosic v Mantas Kalnietis
Teodosic has been the engine behind the Serbian Express which has rolled through the EuroBasket 2015 competition with an average winning margin of 15.1 points. While Teodosic is averaging a tournament-best 8.3 assists (to just 2.1 turnovers per game), Kalnietis has been impressive as well as with a third-best 7.9 assists per game (with 3.1 turnovers per contest). Kalnietis will not be expected to stop Teodosic, but the Lithuanian faithful hope he can at least slow him down.
|Nemanja Nedovic tweaked his back against Czech Republic, but expects to be fine for Friday's clash|
Key Stat: With Teodosic steering the ship, Serbia are the top-scoring team in the tournament with 88.0 points a game. But the Serbs also play tough defence, allowing opponents to hit just 41.2% of their shots - ranked third-best - including 27.7% from three-point range. Lithuania are sixth in three-point field goal percentage at 37.1%.
"They (Lithuania) are playing a lot of pick-and-roll. They have a lot of the same things as from CSKA (Moscow). They really play well as a team" - Serbia point guard Milos Teodosic.
"Serbia have not lost in the championship and they will be favourite. But we will be ready for a strong and tough game. It will be a different style than against Italy. Italy is more offensive and Serbia is playing really strong tough defence" - Lithuania point guard Mantas Kalnietis.
Serbia's Nemanja Nedovic tweaked his back during the third quarter of the Quarter-Finals - an issue he's had on-and-off since training camp. But the guard said he hopes and want to be able to play.