After using an 11-0 run at the start of the fourth quarter to take a two-point lead with under five minutes to play, Lithuania faltered late in what became a dramatic 87-82 win for the Australians in the final game of Group H play in Dongguan, China.
Up by two points when a hard foul from Aron Baynes sent Mindaugus Kuzminskas to the line with 4:06 remaining in the fourth quarter, Kuzminskas missed both free throws, setting off a string of missed opportunities for the men in green a gold.
First, Marius Grigonis threw an errant pass. Then, Patty Mills inbounded the ball for a fastbreak opportunity off a made basket. Valanciunas went 1-of-2 at the line, and Sabonis followed up missing a point-blank putback that would’ve tied the score at 78-78 with a foul that led to free throws, resulting in a costly four-point swing. Lukas Lekavicius drilled a floater to stay within striking distance, but Mills answered with a clutch three to put the Aussies up five with 0:32 left to play, effectively sealing the game and twisting Lithuania’s dagger of self-inflicted mistakes.
With Australia starting the game 9-of-14 from three while walling off the offensive glass and icing the pick-and-roll, Lithuania trailed by as many as 13 in the first half and nine at the end of the first quarter. In the absence of putbacks and rim-rolls, Valanciunas was used mostly as a means for the guards to snake their way into the paint and finished with just seven points on 2-of-5 shooting to go with seven rebounds. Sabonis’ shot-volume (4-of-6) also dwarfed that of ball-handlers Grigonis (8-of-15) and Lekavicius (7-of-11), but he was the more successful of the two bigs at over-powering his man in the paint and greasing the wheels of the offense — once again, racking up four assists.
Both of Lithuania’s centers struggled to contain Aron Baynes, who finished with a game-high 21 points and 13 rebounds, including 3-of-5 from deep.
Particularly devastating was when he knocked down this corner three after Lithuania started switching some on-ball pick-and-rolls to cool down Australia’s blazing hot shooting in the second-half.
Including this three, Lithuania outscored Australia 10-7 to start the third quarter with Sabonis opening the half with two scores as well as an assisted three, sans Valanciunas.
Their strong play continued with Valanciunas taking the baton at the five with 4:22 to play in the third, as the Lithuanians then stormed all of the way back to take the two-point lead that they eventually surrendered along with their chance to face the Dominican Republic in the second round with a 3-0 record. Instead, they’ll be facing off against top-seeded France on Saturday as the third-ranked team in Group L.
- At the four spot, one of Sabonis’ biggest strengths showed up as a weaknesses when he went for an offensive rebound with Valanciunas also already stationed below the free throw line. All it took was missing on this tiny tap out for Australia’s Jock Landale to make him pay a fast price at the other end.
- There haven’t been too many signs of progress on the dexterity front in terms of Sabonis going to his right hand, but that might be because he’s just too strong with his left. Baynes is doing everything he can to prevent Sabonis from being able to turn middle here, and he still gets to his strong-hand with the sweeping hook. Also shouts to him for motioning for his teammates to occupy Joe Ingles as the digger with high-side screening action.
- Part of the reason why Lithuania shifted to switching in the second-half was because of possessions like this, where Sabonis struggled to cover the ground necessary to hedge and get back to Baynes as the roller with enough time for the tagger to release and recover to the shooter. It isn’t often that the Pacers have their bigs step out momentarily and greet the ball-handler coming off a screen, but...they do occasionally use their fours to divert the ball-handler on side pick-and-rolls...
- In a departure from each of the last two games, Sabonis started the second half with Valanciunas on the bench. This was likely done with the intention of providing the offense with more connectable options coming out of halftime, since Australia was doing a solid job of limiting touches for the roll-man. Both bigs ended up logging more than 20 minutes of action, but the rotation in the second half was tag-team up until the final three minutes.