Toronto Raptors duo Linas Kleiza and Jonas Valanciunas played big roles as Lithuania bounced back from Sunday’s defeat to Argentina to beat Nigeria at the Olympics. Al Dannity gives his assessment on the Raptors pair and what this result means for Lithuania’s medal hopes.
Linas Kleiza and Jonas Valanciunas of the Toronto Raptors can breathe a little easier after today’s performance in Olympic Basketball. Team Lithuania took an early lead against Nigeria and they never looked back en route to a convincing win. The result avenged a defeat to Nigeria in the Olympic Qualifiers and crucially puts Lithuania back on course for the quarter finals. Valanciunas, the most anticipated prospect arriving in Toronto for years, had a subdued performance. The multi-threat big man had 4 points on 2 of shooting and 3 rebounds in just 11:46 minutes. Kleiza wasn’t quite his best either with 11 points on 3 of 7 shooting and 6 boards. Instead it was Lithuania’s supporting cast that stepped up on a quiet afternoon for their two NBA stars.
The win moves Lithuania into a strong position in terms of reaching the quarter-finals. With a likely win against Tunisia still to come, the Lithuanians can play smart in their two other group games against France and the USA. Reaching the knockout rounds should be a given for a nation that has never finished worse than fourth at the Olympics. Getting into medal contention however will require some work.
Valanciunas needs to shine against France
The difference between a 2-3 record and a 3-2 record in this round of play could be huge. If Lithuania goes 2-3, they would likely face a star-studded Spanish roster that looks superior at every position. A 3-2 finish would more likely result in tough but far more manageable quarter final with Russia or Brazil.
Realistically Lithuania won’t overcome the USA so that makes Lithuania’s third game, against France, another must-win game. The French have a strong line-up with NBA stars like Tony Park and Nicolas Batum but they lack size where it counts. With Joakim Noah unable to participate in the Olympics, Ronny Turiaf has been logging serious minutes for France. Valanciunas should have a distinct athletic advantage over Turiaf or Boris Diaw, who will also likely step up to take on the new face of the Raptors. For Lithuania to remain relevant in the medal battle they must beat France and for that to happen Valanciunas has to play lights-out Basketball.
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