Spain's basketball players still have work to do before the Olympics
Spain fell to defeat against Lithuania yesterday for the second time in a week at the Palacio de los Deportes (76-78) in a performance lacking in the drive, rhythm and freshness which will improve from training and matches in the build-up to the Games.
While yesterday's result was not significant, the true tests get under way in Rio in a fortnight's time when Olympic medals are up for grabs. Even the return of Pau Gasol was not enough to break down the organised Lithuanian rearguard, led by their top scorer, Kuzminskas.
Spain began the match with the Hernangómez brothers, Ricky and Willy, their chief orchestrators. The freshness of the Spanish attack took the game to the overly permissive Lithuanians and in the blink of an eye, they were losing 22-8. Only Valanciunas and Kuzminskas were making a stand against this far superior Spanish side.
The absence of the rested Kalnietis was proving a stroke of luck to Scariolo's team, who led at the end of the first quarter 22-15 thanks to Gasol's first decisive intervention. He had been out for a month, leaving him to prove that he would be fit enough to compete at the Games. The upcoming matches will be key if he is to arrive in Rio at full fitness.
Kuzminskas was the man who kept producing for his team, as he was given a standing ovation by the home crowd in Malaga, demonstrating that he felt at home here. By scoring a hat trick of baskets, the former Unicaja player had got his team right back into the game.
Neither Sergio Rodríguez nor Calderón could manage to get Spain back to the level that they had shown in the opening minutes, partly down to Lithuania's increased solidarity in defence. After a more one-sided period of play (15-3), the Baltics managed to equalize by the break, with the score at 39-39.
The turning tide of the match left Spain in an increasingly perilous position. The early second half exchanges saw Kuzminskas and Domas Sabonis fight toe to toe to give Lithuania the advantage and Sabonis did just that to hand his team a 48-41 lead. With Gasol yet to find his usual rhythm, Scariolo's team tried to lift themselves without too much success and too much haste in possession. Lithuania were boosted by the unexpected introduction of Grigonis, the young Manresa player, who managed to add points (59-62).
The Spanish team could not lift their game before finding themselves eight points behind due to a lack of rhythm and converted chances. However, they soon profited from the mayhem which had characterised the whole match, levelling the score at 69-69 with barely a minute and a half left on the clock.
Valanciunas breathed life back into his team though, with a basket from behind the Spanish hoop. The Lithuanian centre was again to be the protagonist by converting a free shot, and then Gasol pulled him back while trying to take the ball. The officials duly awarded two points to the Lithuanians and Spain fell 70-74 behind. In the final round of free shots, it was Kuzminskas' side who went on to claim the victory (76-78).source surinenglish