Turning Point: Lithuania led 40-37 at halftime but took control of the game in the first six minutes of the third quarter with an 18-3 run including three three-pointers to make it 58-40. Croatia did not get closer than 14 points the rest of the way.
Game Hero: Jonas Maciulis collected 23 points including four three-pointers as well as six rebounds and provided some tough defence on Croatia's wing players.
Stats Don't Lie: Lithuania held Croatia to 35.4% shooting for the game including 15% from long range while committing just 10 turnovers in the game. Croatia went 1-for-15 from the field in the third quarter.
|Jonas Maciulis (pictured) and Linas Kleiza played integral veteran roles for Lithuania, combining for 45 points|
Lithuania are in the EuroBasket final for the fifth time - and first since the 2003 title - knocking off Croatia 77-62 to set up a date with either Spain or France to decide ultimate EuroBasket 2013 glory.
Croatia will fight for their third bronze medal after 1993 and 1995.
Linas Kleiza saved his best for the big time with 22 points, 11 rebounds and two assists to lead the Lithuanians while Jonas Maciulis nailed four three-pointers in scoring 23 points and Mantas Kalnietis added 18 points, three rebounds and four assists.
"It is important for us, for our generation, now that most of the older guys have left the team, our generation has proved that we can play basketball and represent Lithuania too," said Maciulis, whose 23 points were a tournament-best for him.
"I think we have proved something now and we need to take one more step."
In Sunday's game, Lithuania will either add title number four after triumphs in 1937, 1939 and 2003 or collect a second silver following 1995.
Lithuania coach Jonas Kazlauskas thinks his team has done well overcoming early tournament struggles.
"For sure we are very happy, we are proud for this team. When we started preparations many people were talking bad about us, were saying that this team can do nothing here...but now we have found our rhythm and we are happy that we will play in the final," said the coach.
After winning their last eight games coming into the semi-final, Croatia will now fight for their third bronze medal after 1993 and 1995. Bojan Bogdanovic's 15 points were not enough for the Croatians, who made just three of 20 three-pointers (15%).
"Congratulations [to Lithuania], they absolutely deserved to win the game as they played much better than us, especially in the second half. Honestly, from the first second they seemed to be stronger, faster, more reactive. They are stronger physically but they also looked much more fresh than our team," said Croatia coach Jasmin Repesa.
|"They are stronger physically but they also looked much more fresh than our team" - Croatia head coach Jasmin Repesa|
"Maybe by qualifying to the semi-final of a EuroBasket after 18 years yesterday, we not only spent a lot of energy physically, but also mentally. Honestly, we played a bad game."
Croatia were the first team to pull out to a mini-lead with Damir Markota's triple making it 7-4 early.
Down 10-7, Maciulis nailed his second triple of the contest and Kleiza began to take over. The veteran forward put back an offensive rebound and drove to the lane for a 14-10 lead. Kleiza pulled out his entire arsenal with a driving dunk three-point play increasing the cushion to 17-12. He followed with a turn-around jumper and two foul shots to give him 12 points for the quarter and a 24-19 advantage.
Kleiza remained hot with a three-pointer and two free throws to make it 29-20 for Lithuania. Kleiza went to the bench after two straight missed shots and Lithuania could not find an immediate answer to Croatia's tough defence.
The Croatians meanwhile began to find a rhythm offensively and went on an 11-2 run including a triple by Damjan Rudez and two baskets by Luka Zoric to even the game at 31. Kleiza returned but Lithuania worked on getting the ball inside to Jonas Valanciunas, who had three baskets in the quarter to give Lithuania a 40-37 lead at halftime.
Maciulis started hot in the third quarter with two triples and a three-point play in an 18-3 run to give Lithuania a 58-40 lead. Croatia scored only one basket in the quarter and were still trailing 61-45 after three periods.
Lithuania did not let off the gas in the fourth quarter as Maciulis and Kalnietis worked to push the lead to 20 points, 69-49 with seven minutes left. Croatia used a 7-1 run to pull within 70-56 but Kleiza nailed a three-ball for his first points since the first half and Croatia could not mount another comeback.