After stumbling to a 2-3 record in the group stage, Lithuania has advanced to face Russia in the quarterfinals of the 2012 London Olympics.
While Lithuania’s inclusion in the final eight was seen as a guarantee coming into the tournament, Kestutis Kemzura’s crew wasn’t overly impressive in the preliminaries. Despite being a veteran group, the Lithuanians have been a model of inconsistency on their way to the knockout round.
First came a 23-point loss to Argentina. Then a not-as-impressive-as-it-sounds 19-point win over Nigeria. They did produce one nearly magical performance—a 99-94 loss to the United States—but that was sandwiched between a disappointing loss to France and a victory over winless Tunisia, a scrappy team that legitimately dominated Lithuania for the first three quarters.
Meanwhile, the Russians wreaked all sorts of havoc in Group B, destroying Great Britain and China before edging out close victories over Brazil and Spain. They did lose to Australia on a Patty Mills buzzer-beater, but since they had already secured the group’s top seed, their complacency can be forgiven.
For Lithuania, the Toronto Raptors’ own Linas Kleiza has been the catalyst behind their success, averaging 15.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. His Russian counterpart, Andrei Kirilenko, is also having an excellent tournament, putting up 18.2 points and 6.2 boards through the first five games. In a game that should be evenly-matched, don’t be surprised if the performance of the stars ultimately sways the outcome.
Although I would love to keep watching Kleiza (and Raps’ rookie Jonas Valanciunas as he rides the bench), I’m expecting the Lithuanians to be eliminated today. If they play like they did against the U.S., they will likely advance. Unfortunately, they haven’t proven they can sustain that level of play for extended periods of time.
Lithuania will have their moments, but when the final buzzer sounds, Russia will move on to their first semifinal in over 20 years.
Austin Green is the editor of Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.