Russia, finding themselves in an unfamiliar position as a favorite to reach the gold medal game, moved one step closer on Wednesday after a 83-74 win over Lithuania in the first quarterfinal matchup of the 2012 Olympics. Russia took the lead late in the first quarter and never relinquished it, eventually getting up by as many as 14 in the third quarter before Lithuania’s comeback bid – they were down just 54-53 one possession into the fourth quarter – ultimately proved futile.
Russia’s balanced scoring attack was unsurprisingly led by Andrei Kirilenko, who had 19 points to go alone with 13 rebounds. The Denver Nuggets’ Timofey Mozgov (17), Brazil game hero Vitaliy Fridzon (11), and former NBA wing Sergei Monya (10) also scored in double figures, while former Portland Trailblazer and Chicago Bull Viktor Khryapa played an all-around game with 12 points, six rebounds, and eight assists. The Russians shot 45.2% from the field but struggled from behind the three-point (5-17) and free throw lines (22-36), key in letting Lithuania hang around. Most instrumental to Russia’s offensive success was ball movement that resulted in 24 assists on 28 made baskets.
Lithuania just didn’t have enough to keep pace with Russia, especially when shooting so poorly from the floor. Though they made 8-19 from three-point range they shot just 22-59 from the floor overall, good for a paltry 37.3%. With veteran stars Linas Kleiza and Sarunas Jasikevicius really struggling, Lithuania could never get it going offensively despite a strong bench effort.
This outcome hardly shocks and mostly played to expectation, Russia’s talented depth and unique style proving too much for a team with Lithuania’s limitations. Those counting on a let-down from the inexperienced Russians should be supremely disappointed, as their performance today did nothing to quell the notion they’re the favorites to meet Team USA in the gold medal game.
Spain 66–France 59
After a first half clunk-fest that saw the contrasting styles of these teams play into the hands of underdog France, one expected talent to win out and play would improve in the next twenty minutes. of action Instead this game’s back-and-forth, choppy disposition continued, but Spain won the battle and the ultimate war 66-59.
After a 7-0 run to start the second half it appeared Spain might finally make good on their worldwide reputation and put the French away. But things swung back in France’s favor shortly thereafter once they put Floren Pietrus in for Kevin Seraphin, effectively spacing the floor and making the Gasols guard on the perimeter. From there it was anyone’s game, but it was eventually won by favored Spain due to France’s offensive ineptitude down the stretch. Playing big again against the Spanish zone, France, amazingly, went scoreless from 6:51 of the fourth quarter until an inconsequential basket at time expired Even as dreadful as Spain was offensively such a stretch would be tough not to exploit, and they finally did on a Sergio Llull breakaway dunk mid-way through the quarter to take the lead for good at 58-57. It was free throws and a single bucket from Marc Gasol that sealed it from there for Spain, helped by the French missing 12 of their last 13 field goal attempts to end the game.
Things got extremely chippy in the game’s final minute when France was fouling to put Spain on the free throw line, culminating in Nicolas Batum taking a brutal swing at the nether regions of Juan Carlos Navarro. The French still had an outside chance to win the game at the time, too, but after a second straight unsportsman like conduct foul – Ronnie Turiaf committed one seconds prior – their deficit was too large to overcome.
Boris Diaw was awesome for the French early, playing the versatile floor game that makes him such a valuable NBA commodity. He had 10 points, six rebounds, and five assists in the first half alone, taking advantage of his quickness advantage on Pau Gasol. He couldn’t duplicate that success in the third and fourth quarters, though, and didn’t get much help from Tony Parker, who had 15 points on 20 shots. He was far from the only Frenchman struggling, though, as France shot a dreadful 33.8% from the field as a team.
Marc Gasol had 14 points and nine rebounds for Spain despite his teammates looking elsewhere for offense, and brother Pau had 10 points and 10 rebounds. Spain was boosted by the return of Juan Carlos Navarro even though he shot just 3-11 from the from the floor, and reserve guard Llull was instrumental in slowing down Parker and added eight points of his own.
Despite this win Spain hardly showed enough to consider their tournament-long struggles over, and should be an underdog in the semi-final match against Russia. Like the French, Russia likes to play small and space the floor so Spain will have to adjust defensively to compensate for the Gasols’ slow feet.