Lithuania strengthened their case for top spot in EuroBasket 2015 Group D by keeping their composure to triumph 68-49 against Latvia in an intense battle of the Baltic neighbours in Riga on Sunday.
Turning Point: Lithuania were already beginning to seize control late in the third period when a strong defensive sequence from Lukas Lekavicius allowed Mindaugas Kuzminskas to grab a rebound and race away, drawing the foul from Janis Timma to halt the break. The Latvian's frustrations then got the better of him and a technical foul followed, which was punished by three Kuzminskas points from the line to open up the first double-digit lead at 49-39 going into the final 10 minutes.
Stats Don't Lie: The seven fouls shared by Latvian bigs Martins Meiers and Kaspars Berzins before half-time played into Lithuanian hands in the third quarter. The hosts' ability to be aggressive on the defensive end was inhibited, creating an environment for Jonas Kazlauskas' side to get to the basket and open up more and more scoring opportunities. Latvia's poor offensive execution, underlined by 11 consecutive missed field goals, did not help their cause either.
Game Hero: Jonas Maciulis showed a real appetite for the big moments. He scored 13 points off 5-of-10 shooting, a perfect 3-of-3 from downtown, and typified his team's refusal to accept anything but victory.
The Bottom Line: Lithuania were much improved from their opening performance against Ukraine on Saturday and showed the maturity to punish Latvia's mistakes, scoring 12 points off turnovers as well as making their hosts pay for their foul trouble. Latvia stuck with their neighbours during the first half but appeared to have no answer when Lithuania increased the intensity after the break.