But I’m ready for some Day 3 thoughts after waking up/not really going to bed so I could watch Lithuania vs. France at 4 a.m. ET and then catching Spain vs. Great Britain later this afternoon. So let’s get to it:
Lithuania 74, France 82
Jonas Valanciunas: 7 min, 4 Pts, 2/3 FG, 0/1 FT, 1 Blk, 2 Fouls
Valanciunas started for the third straight game, and as has become customary at this tournament, he got into early foul trouble and was pretty much ignored by his coach for the rest of the game. Jonas looked more comfortable in the game’s opening minutes, getting a couple of bucket and showing off a nice looking hook-shot over Ronny Turiaf while drawing a foul.
But unfortunately, JV had picked up two fouls already just 5:03 into the game. He was substituted as soon as he picked up the second foul, and was then reemed out by his fuming coach on the sidelines as he walked to the bench. Valanciunas didn’t see the floor again until the start of the second half, and though he didn’t pick up another foul, he was subbed out just 1:57 into the half. Lithuania went small the rest of the way, and Valanciunas failed to find the floor again, finishing the day with a grand total of just seven minutes played.
I’m not sure how much of this was the Lithuanian head coach just wanting to go small, how much was him honestly believing his team had a better chance at a win with Valanciunas on the bench, or how much was the coach trying to send a message to his 20-year-old pupil. What is clear is that Kęstutis Kemzūra does not appear very comfortable with having Valanciunas on the floor for more than a few minutes at a time, as he’s now played 33 minutes through three games, with his time on the floor declining with each passing contest. For what it’s worth, there’s been no public sulking on the part of Valanciunas. He seems to remain focused on the bench and can always be seen clapping and cheering his teammates on.
While I’ve stated many times recently that Valanciunas will get into some foul trouble in his rookie season and will probably see less minutes than many of us would hope for, you have to remember that the atmosphere surrounding his playing time will be much different in Toronto. Dwane Casey will obviously want to win every game he steps out for, but there will be a much greater emphasis on developing Valanciunas within the Raptors’ organization than there obviously would be at a two-week international tournament.
I’d be curious to know how Lithuanian fans feel about his recent lack of playing time.
Linas Kleiza: 29:26, 17 Pts, 5/11 FG, 0/3 3PT, 7/8 FT, 7 Reb, 1 Stl, 5 Fouls
Kleiza once again proved to be one of the leaders, if not the leader, of this Lithuanian team. He wasn’t noticeable in the first half and struggled with his own foul trouble, but he really came alive in the second half, specifically the fourth quarter, to help Lithuania stay in the game against a very good France squad.
Just as I wrote after Sunday’s game against Argentina, Kleiza’s quickness and willingness to get to the basket stood out to me. The question is whether this is just another good stretch for a notoriously streaky player, or whether it’s a player who is finally healthy. Raptors fans obviously hope it’s the latter.
Spain 79, Great Britain 78
Jose Calderon: 26:54, 19 Pts, 6/11 FG, 1/4 3PT, 6/8 FT, 4 Reb, 2 Ast, 2 Stl
By the numbers alone, you can tell that Calderon obviously enjoyed his best performance of the tournament on Thursday. What the numbers won’t tell you is the manner in which Jose got to those numbers.
The 19 points in 27 minutes looks nice, but the truth is that Calderon looked rather pedestrian for the majority of this game. That’s not a knock on him. He wasn’t particularly good or bad through the game’s first 39 minutes. Like Spain, he was playing just well enough to get the job done. But he broke out for eight points in the final 44 seconds to help Spain pull away from a feisty British side, showing his late-game value by calmly knocking down free throw after free throw, taking care of the ball, and finding a way to evade a bunch of British players who were desperately trying to foul him in the dying seconds. In the end, Calderon avoided them all to run out the clock.
I don’t want to take too much away from Calderon’s finish, because his clutch shots helped seal a Spanish victory, but I should let you know that the whole “eight points in 44 seconds” stat might be a bit misleading. Two of those points were scored on a fast break lay-up, with the other six coming from the free throw line.
I will also say this, Spain hasn’t looked very focused, sharp or consistent through three games so far, and when you look at how teams like France and Spain’s Group B opponents Russia are playing right now, the Spanish might be vulnerable to an upset. In each of their three games, they’ve had opportunities to really pull away, but they just can’t seem to go in for the kill, instead letting lesser teams get too close for comfort. Squeaking out a one-point victory against a pretty weak British squad isn’t going to convince anyone of anything, regardless of the Brits’ home court advantage.
Men’s basketball picks up again on Saturday morning, with Spain taking on Russia in a huge Group B matchup at 6:15 am ET. and Lithuania playing against the mighty U.S. at 9:30 am. The Spain vs. Russia game could decide top spot in the group, while Lithuania will be looking just to avoid being run out of the gym. As long as they beat Tunisia on Monday, they’ll be fine for a quarterfinal berth.