Thursday, September 15, 2011

EuroBasket 2011 Quarters Analysis: Macedonia Stuns Lithuania; Spain Cruises to Semis


Well, we got our big upset of this EuroBasket. (FYR) Macedonia continues to be the feel-good hit of the summer as they stunned Lithuania in front of its rabid home crowd.

It's a crushing loss for Lithuania and its fans--might go down as the worst loss in Lithuanian national-team history (I'd put it up there with the loss to Spain at Euro '99).

Lithuania really did give this game away. Lithuania committed two crushing turnovers in the last minute when they had a 65-63 lead each possession. And both were committed by experienced veterans.

Saras Jasikevicius lost the ball after dribbling off a high pick-n-roll and then seemed to slip with 0:35 left. Couldn't tell if Saras tripped over his own feet or if he was nudged by the hedging Macedonian big.

On the ensuing possession, Macedonia's Bo McCalebb missed a lay-in that would have tied the game at 65 with under 24 seconds left. Then Darius Songaila made a colossal error.

Darius secured McCalebb's miss with 20 seconds left and instead of waiting for someone to foul him or make a safe pass to a guard, he proceeded to make a pass across the lane that was congested. Macedonia scooped up the errant pass, had Lithuania scrambling to reset their defense, and eventually found Vlado Ilievski wide open for a game-winning 3-pointer with 10 seconds left.

Songaila's pass might go down as the biggest blunder in Lithuanian national-team history. For American fans, think of it as the Lithuanian version of the Joe Pisarcik fumble in the NFL (Miracle at the Meadowlands).

Kind of amazing Macedonia won this game shooting 31% from the floor. But then again, they came into this game shooting 38% through eight games.

Extra possessions were huge for Macedonia and they minimized the impact of the poor shooting numbers. We mentioned in our quarterfinals preview to keep an eye on the turnover disparity in this game. Macedonia came into this game with a terrific -6.3 TOpg margin and they were at -6 in this game.

Macedonia did not generate as many steals as they normally do (five steals), but they kept their turnovers to a minimum (eight TOs). This is something they've been doing the whole EuroBasket. They came into the game averaging only 10.5 TOpg, lowest of any team in the knockout round.

Macedonia's work on the glass garnered some extra possessions as well. Grabbed 18 offensive boards to Lithuania's 32 defensive boards (a very good 36% offensive reb. pct.) which led to 21 second-chance points.

Who would have imagined Macedonia would out-shoot Lithuania from behind the arc? Now, Macedonia's 28% 3pt. pct. was not very good but Macedonia did hit nine 3PA while Lithuania made only 2-of-15 from behind the arc. Lithuania came into this game leading Euro '11 in 3pt. shooting at 45%.

Macedonia's collective defensive effort was top-notch (held Lithuania to 20 points below its average ppg). Their help and recovery was on point all game--rotations on the backline were tight. They stunted Lithuania's vaunted pick-n-roll action. Their bigs hedged hard and Macedonia rarely ever got hurt by the roller. Plus, they challenged Lithuania at the 3pt. line. Macedonia never let the Lithuanian offense establish any type of rhythm.

Wasn't Bo McCalebb's best all-around game of the tourney (23 pts on 8-of-20, 2 assists) , but his speed off the dribble caused problems for the defense. We mentioned in our preview that McCalebb is very hard to guard on ball screens because he's not only dangerous dribble off the pick but also splitting and going away from the screen. And he hurt Lithuania a few times by splitting and going opposite the screen today.

Bo had two big drives in the last two minutes of the game that help Macedonia get within a bucket, including one where he shook Rimas Kaukenas by using a cross-over to set up a spin move for a left hand lay-in to cut the lead to two points with 1:00 remaining.

PF Pero Antic, as usual, threw up multiple shots with defenders right in his face which led to another poor shooting day (2-for-10). But he was clutch on the defensive end all game, providing great help and disrupting Lithuania's pick-n-roll with hard shows. Antic's help defense led directly to two Valanciunas turnovers.

SF Vojdan Stojanovski (15 pts) came into the game shooting 30.7% from behind the arc but he was clutch today, hitting all five of his 3PA. Besides the game-winning 3pt. make, SG Vlado Ilievski hit a couple more jumpers to end the game with 12 points.

Center Peja Samardziski was a monster on the offensive glass with five offensive boards and it seems like he should been credited for more. Peja also did a good job showing on pick-n-roll.

Lithuania point-guard tandem of Saras Jasikevicius and Mantas Kalnietis were not necessarily bad, but they never could get Lithuania's offense humming like it normally does. Kalnietis (9 pts, 9 rebs, 4 assts) was aggressive in spots taking the ball to the rim. Saras (7 pts, 5 assts, 5rebs) created some good looks for his team but never really picked apart the defense in the pick-n-roll and continued to cough up the ball (4 TOs).

Besides the awful pass, Darius Songaila (12 pts) did make some nice contributions on the offensive end, scoring on a few hook shots and a few drives. Robertas Javtokas gave Lithuania an unlikely boost on offense leading the team with 13 pts on 6-of-6.

Jonas Valanciunas (3 pts, 6 rebs, 5 TOs) had a forgettable game that was plagued by turnovers. Three of his five TOs came on cuts or rolls where the defense impeded his move and he shuffled his feet.

Lithuania needs to get over this crushing loss quickly because they have an important placement game vs. Slovenia on Thursday. The winner gets a bid to the Pre-Olympic tourney, and the loser is out of Olympic qualification.

As great as Macedonia's overachieving run through EuroBasket has been, it likely ends on Friday vs. Spain. They will be a massive underdog and I don't see a way they can survive vs. Spain if they shoot their usual sub-40% from the floor. Regardless, Macedonia has now earned a very surprising spot in the pre-Olympic qualifying tournament at worst.


It appeared early that Slovenia was going to make this game competitive when they started the game looking sharp. But that was just a tease. Spain flicked the switch to "eviscerate mode" at the start of the 2nd quarter and took control of the game.

After Slovenia took a 23-16 lead after one quarter, Spain outscored Slovenia 70-41 for the rest of the game. The game was essentially over after the 3rd quarter.

Spain started to take control of this game by holding Slovenia to eight points in the 2nd quarter. Then they battered Slovenia after the halftime break, outscoring Slovenia 36-14 in the 3rd.

Juan Navarro led the assault in the 3rd by scoring 17 of his 26 points in the quarter. Juan Carlos went into vintage La Bomba mode by banging jumpers off of screens, draining spot-ups and tossing up his patented floater 4-5 times. It's fun to watch when Juan starts scurrying around and gets into his lethally-hot NBA JAM-type zone.

Pau Gasol (19 pts, 16 rebs, 3 blks, 2 stls) had a nice all-around game scoring on hooks, turnarounds, drives and drop-steps. Pau changed shots at the rim and cleared the defensive glass.

One minor issue for Spain is the health of Jose Calderon. Calderon (9 pts, 6 rebs, 3 assts, 3 stls) was having a solid game until he came down on the defender's foot after making a 3-pointer.

If Slovenia was going to have any chance in this game, they were going to need to perform much better on the offensive end than they had at anytime in this tourney. They didn't. Slovenia had been underachieving badly on offense for the entire tournament and this game was no different, as they shot 35% overall. Plus they continued to be woeful from behind the arc--6-of-27 on 3PA.

Goran Dragic finally had a halfway decent-game but by the time he started to heat up in the 3rd quarter, the game was out of reach. Goran scored most of his 14 pts when Spain was on cruise control.

Thought we were going to have an interesting matchup between Pau Gasol and Erazem Lorbek when both players came out sharp in the first quarter. But Lorbek scored all of his seven points in the first five minutes of the game and was non-existent the rest of the game.

Slovenia still has something to play for in the loser's bracket. Their Thursday matchup vs. Lithuania will determine one of the last two bids for the Pre-Olympic tourney.

Spain moves on to a matchup with Macedonia in the semis. Expect Macedonia to be brought back down to reality on Friday.


At 7:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"One minor issue for Spain is the health of Jose Calderon. Calderon (9 pts, 6 rebs, 3 assts, 3 stls) was having a solid game until he came down on the defender's foot after making a 3-pointer."

Make that "until Dragic decided to try to harm Calderón out of desperation"

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