By Simon Wilkinson
Lithuania gave birthday boy and team captain Ramunas Siskauskas the best possible present on the day as they beat France 88-73 to remain undefeated (4-0) and remain top Group F of the 2007 EuroBasket.
The 2003 EuroBasket champions led by as many as 20 points at one point in the first half and recovered from a slow start in the third quarter to send France (2-2) to their second loss of the qualifying round, putting their chances of reaching the quarter-finals in the balance.
Siskauskas, who turned 29, finished with a game-high 19 points and was glad to have a
good performance on the day.
|Parker was kept in check, finishing with only 11 points.|
“It's my birthday today, so everybody has to play good on his birthday. That's the rule, right?” he joked afterwards.
“We played well in the first half, but then allowed them to come back. We shouldn't allow that in the next games, but I'm happy that we made it work this time. Everybody who went on court played a good game today.”
“It's not the first game where we are 20 points up and then we go down and it's difficult against a good team like France to maintain the same intensity. They came back but still we got good moments.”
Center Robertas Javtokas was slightly concerned with the team’s lack of intensity right after the break but conceded it was a regular bad habit of theirs.
“We always have trouble coming out for the second half, but we managed to overcome it tonight,” he admitted. “We just kept playing and showed our best no matter who we play against.”
This was a tough loss for France coach Claude Bergeaud who thought his side may not have been ready for the huge task.
“They (Lithuania) played very well and very aggressive. They jump, run and shoot. They know how to play together. We were not ready to play tonight. We couldn't get into our offense like we did against Germany,” he said.
Lithuania used a 17-2 spurt in the first 4:30 of the second quarter to turn a 20-19 deficit into a 36-20 advantage.
They had their biggest lead of the night, 42-22, when Simas Jasaitis made a fastbreak lay up with 2:59 left in the first half and went into the break ahead by 16, 48-32.
But Bergeaud’s men were the stronger team coming out of the locker room. They used a 10-0 run in the first two minutes of the third quarter to come back within striking distance at 48-42 behind two three-pointers by Florent Pietrus and Yakhouba Diawara and a lay up by Tony Parker.
Diawara hit another long bomb to cut the deficit to five, 50-45 but that’s as close as France got.
Lithuania awoke from their funk and used an 8-0 spurt to recover their double-digit lead at 63-52 on Siskaukas’ three-pointer with under 2:30 left in the period.
The final quarter was then pretty much a formality, as France couldn’t muster another big rally while Lithuania got back to their old and better ways of the first half.
The game started as a very gritty affair as the teams combined for 15 fouls and 22 free-throw attempts in the first quarter.
Lithuania had the advantage for the most part of the opening period and had a seven-point lead, 17-10, after Rimantas Kaukenas made a pair of free-throws.
Les Bleus though finished the period on a 9-2 run – capped off by Tony Parker’s three-point play – to trail by just one, 19-18.
Bergeaud’s men then took the lead, 20-19, when back-up center Pape Badiane made a dunk in the first minute of the second quarter but they then went without a single point for 4:30mins as their opponents went on an incredible run.
Jasikevicius had 14 points and seven assists for Lithuania who will face Slovenia in their last game of the qualifying round, with both teams having already secured their places in the last eight.
Florent Pietrus had a game-high 13 points for France while Tony Parker was held to a quiet 11 points as he had to deal with Lithuania’s stifling defense. They will face Turkey – who earlier today bowed out of the competition – in a game that could decide their fate.