The Group Stage of the 2012 Olympic tournament has shifted into top gear, and the results that took it there are both Raptors-related. Linas Kleiza’s and Jonas Valanciunas’ Lithuanian team gave the star-studded Americans all they could handle, even holding a lead in the fourth quarter before falling valiantly by just five points. Meanwhile, Jose Calderon’s Spanish side continues to look shaky in London, and they finally paid for it with a three-point loss to an upstart Russian side.
So how did Kleiza, Valanciunas and Calderon fare today? I’m glad you asked.
Spain 74, Russia 77
Jose Calderon: 24 Min, 2 Pts, 1/3 FG, 0/2 3PT, 3 Ast, 1 Stl
It’s rare to see a point guard play more than half the game and yet still look as useless and ineffective as Calderon was on Saturday. In fairness to Jose, few Spanish players were actually effective after the first quarter, and you can point to the team’s system and style of play as a reason for the point guard looking so unimportant. I feel like you could have plugged an average guy from your local rec league in at point guard for Spain today, and the result would have been more or less the same.
Some commenters have recently voiced their observations that we here at RaptorBlog always find ways to criticize Calderon, but I really don’t see any way around it after this game. I still think Jose will be a great backup point guard this season if he starts the campaign behind Kyle Lowry in Toronto, but let’s be frank, other than a 44-second span in the final minute against Great Britain on Thursday, he’s been virtually invisible in London. As for Spain, I mentioned in Thursday’s thoughts that they had yet to look sharp, consistent or very interested in finishing off their opponents, and it finally bit them in the ass in this loss to Russia, where Spain actually had a 28-11 lead after one quarter.
Lithuania 94, U.S.A. 99
Linas Kleiza: 30 Min, 25 Pts, 10/20 FG, 2/6 3PT, 3/4 FT, 5 Reb, 3 Ast, 1 TO
The one Raptor who has been consistently good so far in London is one of the most inconsistent Raptors of the last couple years. Go figure.
Lithuania plays a very organized team game that rarely sees one player shine, but through four games, Kleiza has been the closest thing to the team’s shining star, averaging nearly 19 points on 50 per cent shooting to go along with over six rebounds per game. He’s led the team in scoring in all four games and has led the team in rebounding in three out of the four. The surprising quickness I’ve mentioned recently wasn’t on display against the U.S., and he’s still taking some ill-advised shots for my liking, but you can’t really ask for much more from Kleiza so far. Lithuania should beat Tunisia on Monday (though the Tunisians have been surprisingly competitive) to grab a quarterfinal berth, and if Group B continues to look as wide open as it does right now, I’ll give them a fighting chance in the knockout stage.
As far as Raptors fans hoping this latest international success for Kleiza will translate into NBA success next season, while he’s been impressive, I can’t say I see anything new or different in his game other than the quickness with his first step, and that’s really more of an eyeball observation than anything else. It’s nice to see Linas playing well, but I doubt it will mean much in October.
Jonas Valanciunas: 9 Min, 4 Pts, 2/4 FG, 0/1 FT, 1 Reb, 2 TO, 2 Fouls
It was another forgettable night at the office for Valanciunas, although I guess there hasn’t been enough action for him to forget anyway. The game started with a missed Valanciunas lay-up, and within six minutes, the 20-year-old was on the bench, where he stayed put until the start of the second half. Then it was more of the same early in the third quarter. A make, a miss, a turnover, a foul, and quickly to the bench.
It’s become painfully obvious that Valanciunas will need to play over his head in the first few minutes of either half if he wants more than 10 minutes of playing time per night. And while it’s easy for us to say that head coach Kęstutis Kemzūra isn’t giving Jonas a fair shake, JV hasn’t exactly set the world on fire when given the chance in London. Plus, it’s hard to argue too much with Kemzūra right now based on how effective Lithuania has looked in their last two games when they go small. I thought Valanciunas was quietly impressive in limited minutes and deserved more time in the team’s first three games, but I can’t say that about his performance against the U.S.
Based on how important Lithuania’s final group game against Tunisia will be and how little faith Kemzūra seems to have in Valanciunas, I wonder if the leash will be even shorter on Monday and in any knockout games. At this rate, I can pretty much guarantee that Jonas will get more playing time as an NBA rookie with the Raptors than he’s gotten as one of the few NBA players on the Lithuanian squad.
That Lithuania vs. Tunisia matchup will tip off at 6:15 am ET. on Monday, with Calderon and Spain getting a chance at redemption vs. Brazil at 3 pm ET. The Spain/Brazil matchup will be interesting, because the winner will likely finish second in Group B, while the loser will likely finish third and will therefore avoid the Americans in the bracket until the final. Will we see basketball’s equivalent of purposely firing a shuttlecock into the net to concede points?