Marco Belinelli's Italian squad faced off against a very talented Lithuanian team in quarterfinal Eurobasket action. The Lithuanians are loaded with NBA and ex-NBA players in the Houston Rockets' Donatas Motiejunas, Toronto Raptors' Jonas Valanciunas, former Denver Nugget and Toronto Raptor Linas Kleiza, and 2001 San Antonio Spurs' draft pick Robertas Javtokas (who didn't play). This team is long, lanky, and young, which had a major impact on both ends of the floor in this game, which Lithuania won 81-77.
This game was a battle from the start. Lithuania started off hot on the offensive end, and was able to slow down any Italian ball movement on the other end. Taking a seven point lead into the second quarter in dominant fashion, Lithuania looked like they were going to make this game a blowout. Much like Italy's last game, the second and third quarters were all about Andrea Cinciarini, Alessandro Gentile, and Pietro Aradori who consistently pushed the ball up the floor off of turnovers, and missed or made shots. Luigi Datome also elevated his defensive effort during this span, blocking a shot and generally making life uncomfortable for Lithuania on the offensive end.
The start of the fourth quarter was the difference in the game. Cinciarini, Gentile, and Aradori are only offensively dependable for a few minutes per game, and that was used up in the third. Italy has a tendency to improvise with the ball, and Lithuania exploited that fact in the fourth quarter. Italy's offense was atrocious and Lithuanian's lead stretched to 11. Belinelli brought the Italians back with some miraculous shooting at the end. But when the lead was cut to six Aradori had two missed wide open layups and a crucial turnover to end their chances.
Marco had another valiant effort for the Italians. He was dropping shots from all over the floor and making strong drives to the rim. In fact, it looked like he could take over the game at any moment. But then, Italian and Spur fans had a scare when he clashed knees with Montiejunas. Belinelli was down for awhile and was limping for the next few plays afterwards, though it fortunately didn't seem as if any permanent damage was done. Although he didn't appear to be seriously injured, Marco remained tentative on both ends of the floor for pretty much the rest of the game aside from a play where he split a double team for a huge dunk at the end of the third quarter and a three minute span at the end of the game where he knocked off 10 quick points. He finished with 22 points, two boards, and two steals, but would likely have been able to be more effective without that hit to his knee.
Credit has to be given to the Lithuanians, who were clearly the more talented team on both ends of the floor. The announcers warned the Italians that the Lithuanians play an aggressive brand of basketball, and the Italians simply couldn't handle it in the fourth quarter. Willing to foul to continue their tight defense, Lithuania completely disrupted all of the offensive flow for Italy. The combination of this intense D and the complete improvisation on Italy's part led to an ugly offensive game for Italy, and is something they'll want to work on in the future.
With the loss, Italy is now out of the winner's bracket of the Eurobasket tournament. Italy surprised most by getting this far in the tournament without Andrea Bargnani and Danilo Gallinari. They will face the Ukraine tomorrow in a final consolation round.