The innocence of the group stage subsided (with help from Nicolas Batum) and the tension of the knockout phase began at the Olympic basketball tournament on Wednesday.
Jonas Valanciunas and Linas Kleiza’s Lithuanian team saw their tournament come to an end, while Jose Calderon and Spain rallied past France in a feisty quarterfinal battle.
But how did the three Raptors fare individually?
Lithuania 74, Russia 83
Jonas Valanciunas: 16 Min, 7 Pts, 2/4 FG, 3/4 FT, 9 Reb, 1 Blk, 3 Fouls
Valanciunas saved his best performance of the London 2012 Games for last, living up to his big game billing in Lithuania. He wasn’t off the charts, and he still played less than half the game, but Valanciunas was very good and very effective for the majority of minutes he was on the floor against Russia.
Jonas always seemed to be moving on the offensive end, was more responsible with the ball than he has been in previous games and was his usual active self on the defensive end. When you add his noticeable performance against Russia to his performances in Lithuania’s first five games, Valanciunas finishes with just 69 minutes played, and averaged about four points and four rebounds in roughly 11.5 minutes per game. Given the very limited playing time, the production wasn’t bad from one of the youngest players at the tournament. Of course, he also finished with 13 fouls, or about one foul every five or six minutes.
Valanciunas seemed to be playing through some ankle pain in this game, so hopefully he can rest up and be completely healthy when training camp opens in October. As I mentioned in my latest Valanciunas post, the guy hasn’t had much time off, if any, over the last year or so.
Linas Kleiza: 24 Min, 4 Pts, 1/7 FG, 2/4 FT, 7 Reb, 3 Ast, 1 TO
After being Lithuania’s go-to player and one of the better players overall during the group stage, Kleiza was a flop when it mattered most for Lithuania in London. Kleiza looked a step slow and out of sync all game, finishing with four points on 1-of-7 shooting.
Rumours are floating around on twitter that Kleiza, who captains the team, found out an hour before the game that he will lose his driver’s license for a month because of a speeding violation in Lithuania, and that this might have been an unwelcomed distraction. Even if these reports are true, I’m still not buying it as a viable excuse for his big game failure. It’s not like he received some sort of tragic news or found out he was going to jail. A millionaire who can probably afford a personal driver may have lost his license for a month. If that’s enough to throw him off his game in as big a contest as this was for Lithuania, it’s no wonder he can’t put a consistent season together for the Raptors.
Overall, Kleiza was solid in London, but if he can’t find that consistency this season, he may fall behind in the depth chart on a much deeper team than the one the Raptors trotted out last season.
Spain 66, France 59
Jose Calderon: 21 Min, 5 Pts, 2/6 FG, 0/2 3PT, 1/2 FT, 2 Reb, 1 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 TO
Calderon wasn’t spectacular for Spain on Wednesday and his numbers were underwhelming again, but I actually thought he was better than the stats suggest and had one of his better games so far in London (though that’s not really saying much), as he even looked better on the defensive end today.
The highlight of Calderon’s performance against France came after Nicolas Batum sacked Juan Carlos Navarro in the final minute of play. Calderon rushed in to defend his teammate and ended up being nearly choked by a hysterical Batum, who appeared to word “I’ll f**k you up” in Calderon’s direction. Jose responded by laughing in his face, literally.
I don’t know abot you, but I hope Calderon is still on the roster when the Raptors take on the Trail Blazers on December 10.
Calderon’s Spanish side will take on Russia in a semifinal matchup on Friday. As well as Russia has played so far, I just can’t see them beating Spain two times in the span of a week, so my money will be on Spain to get back to the Olympic final.
As for Lithuania, this is the first time in six tries that they’ve failed to make the semifinals in a men’s Olympic basketball tournament. History aside, they finished exactly as I thought they would, with a 2-3 record in the group stage and a quarterfinal loss to the Group B winner. The tiny European nation always seems to come up with new basketball talent and has a reputation as a country that plays a well organized team game. I expect that to continue in the future, and led by what should be one of the more dynamic young frontcourts in international competition (Valanciunas/Motiejunas), Lithuania should find itself playing for medals again in due time.