This game will most likely not be watched by much Team USA fans in the United States mainly because this game will tip-off at 7:00 AM ET and Team USA’s quarterfinal game against Australia doesn’t start until late afternoon (5:15 PM ET).
Nonetheless, for those die hard Olympic fans or any Russia or Lithuania fan reading this preview, this is for you guys mainly. Americans will still probably be reading this preview by the time the game is already done when one team has already advanced.
Tipping off the 2012 London Olympics Men’s Basketball quarterfinals will be Lithuania and Russia two of the most aggressive teams in my opinion and two of the grittiest as well. Neither team is that deep like other teams such as USA and Spain, but their starters and some bench players had led them both to the final stages of attaining a gold medal.
Russia enters the elimination rounds as the second best team in among all 8 remaining teams with just one loss which shockingly came against lowly Australia. Led by new members of the Minnesota Timberwolves in forward Andrei Kirilenko and point guard Alexey Shved, Russia’s offense and defense is well balanced. And not that I’m saying one player sticks with offense and the other sticks with defense of vice versa, but both players have a great balance of both.
Kirilenko scored the second most points during the preliminary rounds among all players competing in the men’s Olympic games with 35 points, which is just 2 points behind Team USA’s Carmelo Anthony’s 37 points. Lithuanian and Toronto Raptors forward Linas Kleiza who has been the leader of Lithuania thus far will definitely be challenged as he plays offense against Kirilenko, who is one of the best defenders in the world.
In Lithuania’s most recent game against Tunisia, who will no longer be seen in the tournament, Kleiza only had 4 points but had 6 rebounds in 24 minutes of action. However, against Team USA the game in the game before Tunisia, Kleiza poured in for 25 points on 50% shooting from the field which helped Lithuania give Team USA a scare.
For Alexey Shved, his opposing point guard in Lithuania is questionable as Lithuania quickly switches up their point guards from game to game. Lithuania’s point guards also have not been able to assert themselves much in scoring unlike Shved who has done a solid job in scoring but also has been a great true point guard for Russia. During his first game in the 2012 London Olympics, Shved recorded a double double against the home team (Great Britain) where he finished with 16 points and 13 assists. In the “upset” win over Spain however, Shved had 0 points, but quickly bounced back with 13 points in a loss to the Aussies.
Starting big man Alexander (Sasha) Kaun for Russia had a spectacular game against Australia where he finished with 18 points on an 80% shooting from the field. The 6 foot 11 big man also pulled down 6 rebounds that game. Kaun is much more experienced than Russia’s starting big man in Jonas Valanciunas who will be making his NBA debut with the Toronto Raptors about two to three months from now. In Valanciunas’ last game he posted no points but had 6 rebounds. Scoring has been a problem thus far for the young 20-year old who will have to bring a lot going up against Russia who also have Denver Nuggets center Timofey Mozgov who has been active on the boards for Russia coming off the bench.
Veteran point guard Sarunas Jasikevicius will probably be the X-Factor for Lithuania coming off the bench as his experience will come in handy for Lithuania as most of the starters, compared to the 2008 Lithuania team that lost in the bronze medal game against Argentina, are younger and less experienced. For Russia, forward Victor Khryapa and starting guard/forward Anton Ponkrashov will be the X-Factors for a Russian victory. The two starters led the way for Russia during their big win over #2 overall ranked Spain where they scored 12 and 14 points respectively. Ponkrashov also added 11 assists to his 14 point effort.
When it comes down to it in this game, it’s a question on who can take care of the ball better. Both teams have not been capable of taking care of the ball that well and neither team are fast break teams so it will be interesting to see how either team takes advantage of the other. Size is pretty much equal, but for me, Russia seems to have a little bit more offensive fire power than Lithuania. However, Lithuania is one team that won’t back down from any fight or even any lead as they have shown in the pool game against Team USA.
My prediction: Russia wins.