Victorious Lithuanian basketball stories: the army of J. Kazlauskas who snatched the medal tooth and nail continues the project “Victorious Lithuanian Basketball Stories”, reminding the most prominent victories of the national team on the occasion of the European Championship.

This time we will move to 2015 when Jonas Kazlauskas trained Lithuanians created a silver march in the European Championship of a new format.

The Lithuanian national team reached the finals two years ago, and reached the semi-finals at the 2014 World Championship, so there was no shortage of self-confidence. In addition, the changed tournament system benefited the group stage.

The European Championship was held in four different countries for the first time. The Lithuanians, who were in the first basket, were drawn to neighboring Latvia, and this is not even the best part – the balls drawn by Dejan Bodiroga allowed them to avoid absolutely all grands.

Latvia, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Estonia and Ukraine were placed in group D with the Lithuanians, thus only raising the expectations of the fans even more.

Preparation for preferences

In the Lithuanian schedule before the championship, there were as many as 10 friendly matches, in which J. Kazlauskas chose his starting line-up in detail. The start with two victories against Australia set a positive mood, although there were no shortage of waves later.

We also managed to defeat Finland, Austria, Turkey and North Macedonia, and the revolutions slowed down only after the defeat of Croatia. Then they also took part in the Acropolis tournament, where they lost to Turkey, defeated the Netherlands, and the national team was sent off to the championship with a failure against Greece.

The mood was darkened by numerous uncorrected mistakes in the last match – in Athens, the Lithuanians scored only 62 points and lost 20 balls. After the match, J. Kazlauskas also admitted that he doesn’t feel like he has all the answers yet.

The Lithuanians did not play a single friendly match with the final twelve, because it was announced only four days before the championship, “unhooking” Artūras Gudaitis and Žygimantas Janavičius.

Then he went to Riga Robertas Javtokas, Jonas Mačiulis, Deividas Gailius, Paulius Jankūnas, Antanas Kavaliauskas, Mantas Kalnietis, Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Lukas Lekavičius, Artūras Milaknis, Renaldas Seibutis, Jonas Valančiūnas and has yet to be drafted in the National Basketball Association (NBA) draft Domantas Sabonisfor whom it was his debut in the national team.

An uninspiring start

The Lithuanian game in the group stage resembled the extension of friendly matches – there were no shortages or depressing sections, which did not allow us to feel so confident. Defeated by just one point (69:68) at the start, Ukraine also did not add confidence.

Later, the Latvians were surrounded in defense (68:49), and the three-day marathon ended with a failure against the Belgians (74:76). An ill Jonas Valančiūnas dropped out of the lineup for a while, and the victories over Estonia (64:62) and the Czech Republic (85:81 after extra time) did not convince that it would be possible to go far in the playoffs.

After closing Group D, M. Kalnietis was happy that it was finally possible to leave Riga, which had become an association of poor play, and a considerable number of fans were already in a hurry to bury the national team.

This prophecy did not come true, but it was not long before that – in the round of 16, the Lithuanians had Sakartvelas, who had accelerated and lacked ambition after the victory over the Croatians. The opponents’ resistance was even stronger than expected and they only managed to dig out Thanks to the career match of J. Mačiulis.

Withstood the time of trials

In the quarter-finals, the Italians from the group of death awaited, with Andrea Bargnani, Marco Belinelli and Danilo Gallinari at the forefront. The sceptically awaited match was a true war of nerves – none of the quarters ended with a bigger difference than a point, and D.Gallinari’s equalizer led to overtime.

In this one, they managed to abuse the opponents’ weaknesses under the basket even more – J. Valančiūnas, who collected even 26 points and 15 rebounds, laid the foundations for the victory, and P. Jankūnas closed the match with a three-pointer and opened the way to the semi-finals.

Here, the Serbians were waiting for the Lithuanians, who entered the field after seven victories in a row and with the status of favorites. The students of Aleksandar Djordjevičius could then be called Miloš Teodosić’s army – all attacks started and ended with him.

At stake then was not only the medal of the European Championship, but also the ticket to the Olympics, which simply could not be let go.

The Lithuanians managed to force their more talented opponents into a sticky and inconclusive fight, and after three quarters they took the lead 48:43. Points continued to be collected with difficulty, and upon reaching the finish line, M. Teodosićius reduced the difference to the minimum (64:65) with a three-pointer. M.Kalnietis and R.Seibutis hit only one free throw each, but the defense saved the Lithuanians again – the erring Serbians did not even prepare a shot and lost the semi-final, paving the way for J.Kazlauska’s team to the final.

The subtext of triumph

The final against Spain was one that you don’t want to think about or write about, but the silver medal for the Lithuanian national team at that time is a wonderful appreciation of the work.

Despite the victory of the rivals, only Pau Gasolis, who became the MVP, and two Lithuanians – J. Mačiulis and J. Valančiūnas – made it to the symbolic five of the tournament. For the latter, it was the first European Championship, in which the then 23-year-old midfielder took over the regalia of the national team leader.

M.Kalnietis also experienced his real peak then, becoming the player with the most assists in the tournament, J.Mačiulis leading in terms of intercepted balls and was simply all kinds of bull.

Looking at this championship now, it is obvious that the national team did not have enough talent to go this far. A large part of the laurels should again be hung on J. Kazlauskas, whose chess games led the Lithuanians to the podium, when the individually more capable Serbs, Greeks, Italians or Croats could only envy.

The genius of J. Kazlauskas is only confirmed by the fact that the same set of players has not repeated such a feat so far. After his departure, we experienced disappointments at the World Cup and Olympic qualifiers and a European Championship that ended in the round of 16, only adding weight to the 2015 silverware.

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