By Simon Wilkinson
Turning point: Despite going scoreless for the first 7:06 of the second quarter - during which time they conceded a 23-0 run - Lithuania only trailed by eight at half time. They used a 7-2 run after the break to get within 42-37, but Spain then reeled off 22 of the last 28 points the rest of that period to lead 64-43 and never looked back.
Hero: Several candidates for Spain. Pau Gasol stepped up his play and was impressive at both ends of the court during the pivotal second and third quarter runs. Jorge Garbajosa was reinserted in the starting line-up and proved the move to be a wise one as he knocked down some timely and fed Gasol for some easy baskets.
Stats: Lithuania had 21 fouls and 19 turnovers and were just six of 23 from three-point range.
Spain recovered from a slow start to cruise past Lithuania 84-70 in Group F of the EuroBasket 2009 Qualifying Round.
The win saw the world champions improve to 2-2 and boosted their chances of reaching the last eight of the competition. Meanwhile, Lithuania dropped to 0-4 and are assured of missing out on the Quarter-Final stages for the first time since 2001.
Afterwards, Spain head coach Sergio Scariola was very happy with his team's performance.
|Lithuania were missing Simas Jasaitis who missed the game due to injury.|
"I think it was an excellent game from our team. One main issue was that we recovered our physical condition and we played the game the way we like to - by running and being aggressive," he said.
"We are just one step closer to where we want to get. It's a very important step, a consistent one.
And Scariola praised star player Pau Gasol for his performance, as he finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.
" Pau was very important defensively for us. He made one big step forward in terms of intensity and aggressiveness. The team took advantage of this."
Spain used a 23-0 run in the second quarter to turn a 24-15 deficit into a 38-24 advantage and they held off several runs by their opponents the rest of the way to secure a vital win.
The Spaniards were helped by the fact that Lithuania, playing without the injured Simas Jasaitis, lost their shooting touch altogether.
The Lithuanians failed to score a single point for the first 7:04 of the second period, missing their first 11 shot attempts before Linas Kleiza ended the drought with a corner three-pointer. He and Marijonas Petravicius accounted for eight points in the last three minutes of the half to cut the deficit to 40-32.
Spain's impressive run started when Rudy Fernandez buried a three-pointer and, after a problem with the shot clock on Lithuania's basket - the second such instance in the first half - Spain seemed to click all of a sudden.
Once the technical problem was solved, Ricky Rubio fed the trailing Pau Gasol for a thunderous dunk. The Los Angeles Lakers All Star then scored inside again while getting fouled. He failed to convert the three-point play but Felipe Reyes got the offensive rebound and tied the game at 24 with 6:31 left.
Spain applied some full-court press defense to great effect as Lithuania had trouble inbounding the ball and getting it past the midcourt line.
Fernandez hit a pair of free-throws, Navarro got a steal and found Garbajosa for a long bomb and a 29-24 lead. Gasol capped off the run with a dunk after Garbajosa timed his lob pass perfectly for a 38-24 advantage.
The Lithuanians did not give up and a 7-2 spurt got them within 42-37 early in the third quarter on Kleiza's fastbreak dunk. Spain though responded in fine fashion, accounting for 22 of the last 28 points of that period and a 64-43 advantage.
Rubio sliced through the defense for a lay-up and free-throw and Fernandez came off a pick and lobbed the ball for Gasol to dunk it. The big man had another dunk when he worked the pick and roll to perfection with Rubio to go up 49-37.
Lithuania were within 10 the next trip down the court when Robertas Javtokas had a big dunk of his own. That would be as close as they would get the rest of the way.
Early on, Lithuania used a 17-6 run to take their 24-15 first quarter lead. Butautas' side made six of nine attempts from two-point range and three of six from beyond the arc in the first quarter.
Spain, after a reasonable start, went through a long drought. They failed to make a basket for more than 6:20. Navarro buried a corner three with 7:16 to edge in front 9-7 but they then had to wait until Marc Gasol scored inside in the final minute of the period to end that rough patch.
Butautas was satisfied with his team's play early on but once again was disappointed to see them fade away.
"We controlled the game only in the first quarter but it was another bad performance from us. We weren't aggressive and our pressing was terrible. We have one more game (against Serbia on Wednesday) and I hope that my players will give a better performance."