Early on, they were very tentative on the attack, reverting to relying heavily on their rather unremarkable club big men to play that slow, methodical style of feeding the post that usually ends up in frustration. When they did get open shots, they would often times pass them up and choose to give the ball to someone else who happened to be heavily guarded. They would then proceed to miss said shot by a mile,and I would proceed to scream at the tv and throw things!

The Bulgarians played surprisingly aggressive and were getting open shots which they were knocked down.

Then they would attack the rim and either finish with a layup or get to the foul line. Throughout this entire game, their team took four big leads.Each one of them was either double digits or very nearly double digits.

It was almost as if the famous song— ‘I get knocked down, but I get up again’ was playing in the background, that’s precisely what our guys would do. EVERY SINGLE TIME!

This seems to be one of the characteristics all Lithuanian teams tend to have in common. They don’t give up, they fight back, always relying on aggressive defense to help them take that punch from the other team and just get back up. In this case, they miraculously managed to claw out a two point win 72:70 after coming back from the brink multiple times! Early in the match, Ignas Bradzeikis was struggling to get into his customary rhythm and the team suffered as a result. It wasn’t as though he didn’t do what he normally does to great success. It was just silly mistakes piling up, like stepping out of bounds, traveling or missing every single three he took.

You knew on a long enough timeline he was going to ultimately have success, which he did have late in this match, but it made coach Maksvytis decide to go to his bench a little earlier which wasn’t conducive to helping the team get going in this match. In hindsight.

I think I would have recommended to coach Maksvytis and his committee of elite Lithuanian coaches like Kestutis Kemzura to maybe cut Iggy a break if he isn’t going insane early on. As I said, good things tend to happen to him if you give him a chance.

By the end of the game, my theory was vindicated and Iggy was his usual elite self, which was a big reason they actually got the win. Marius Grigonis slipped back into the role of the point guard once again, not really his strongest suit as I have said, but with Vytenis Čižauskas in foul trouble he really didn’t have much of a choice. It is also seemingly part of the Lithuanian way to make a really good shooting guard into the team point guard, Mantas Kalnietis being the best example which comes to mind.

Although Grigonis isn’t the best passer or decision maker, he is overall the best guard on the floor. He didn’t tear up the stat sheet in this one, but he always had this crazy knack for doing the exact needed thing at the exact needed time, like making a couple of insanely long threes to help close the gap when Lithuania felt things slipping away.

As always, Lithuania got balanced scoring by their committee of talented, yet team-oriented players. A smattering of Laurynas Birutis, Vytenis Čižauskas, Tomas Dimša among others helped the team stay within striking distance. If I may be so bold as to say that Lithuania’s greatest strength, their unselfish team play(komandinis žaidėjas)can sometimes be a curse. In the game tonight they deferred a bit too often,sometimes passing up great shots for downright mediocre and even bad ones.

They NEVER gave up though! If you have to put up with a team being a bit too unselfish at times but is also so mentally tough that they never give up.

You will take that trade-off as a couch all day! They went into the locker room at halftime actually holding on to a slight lead which was fools’ gold considering they had played so poorly.This led fanatics of Lithuanian basketball like me to believe they had broken the ice and would dominate in the second half. How wrong I was and my blood pressure skyrocketed instead! During the first half, LT was only down by double digits one time which as I said, they overcame that deficit and actually took a slight lead going into the locker room.

In the second half, however, THREE more times Bulgaria would go on runs and get double digit or near double digit leads. As if this were a replay of the movie ‘Rocky’, each and every time they were on the ropes, they somehow managed to find a way back into it and even up the match! By the end of the final stanza, their big three of Bradzeikis, Grigonis and Birutis came through and proved they were the better team.

Ignas kept on attacking as good players do, even when their three-point shot wasn’t falling like his(and everyone else’s) wasn’t for most of the game. He didn’t let it shake his confidence, he just kept playing and by the end, he was getting open court dunks, layups along with key assists and rebounds.Laurynas Birutis worked the pick-androll superbly with Ignas late in the game.

The Lithuanian big man, who had also flirted with the NBA and currently is playing with the elite Lithuanian franchise Kaunas Žalgiris, proved himself to be a very capable finisher. Although Ignas didn’t blow up the stat sheet in this game, like Grigonis he tended to make important plays at the exact time the team needed them. For example, at the very end when the final result was very much in doubt and could have easily gone the other way, Ignas grabbed the most important rebound of the game.

Coach Maksvytis, had decided he would play ‘small ball’ and replace Laurynas Birutis, who I previously had said was playing well, with the smaller but perhaps in coach’s mind more mobile big man Gytis Masiulis. Masiulis had utterly destroyed Latvia in the previous game but was having a terrible game tonight and he missed out on a key rebound which would have given Lithuania the final possession and closed the deal.

Instead, Bulgaria got the rebound and was in striking distance to get the go-ahead basket. Fortunately, they didn’t make the shot, and Ignas was there to grab the most important rebound of the game to pretty much seal the deal for LT. When the final buzzer sounded it was almost surreal. Looking up at the scoreboard it was indeed 72:70 in Lithuania’s favor. Precisely zero players from the Lithuanian squad were smiling in the immediate aftermath, they knew they had just barely scraped by with this one by the skin of their teeth.

Credit to the Bulgarians, they had stepped up their game since the last time the two teams faced off when LT had a comfortable margin of victory.

Since then they had nationalized an American player named Demarquis “Dee” Bost, an excellent point guard who was a big part of their success tonight and who played almost the entirety of the game. Lately, quite a few Eastern European countries have given citizenship to good foreign players in order to bolster their national teams. It’s not like it’s cheating, but Lithuania hasn’t done that themselves, almost as an unwritten rule of personal honor.

Although they did give Bradzeikis citizenship, he is actually 100 percent Lithuanian and was born in Kaunas, living there until he was three when his parents emigrated to Canada. Yo Adrian, I did it! Not to belabor the Rocky analogy, but basketball is very similar to boxing in many ways.It’s not necessarily about inflicting damage.

In a lot of cases, as Lithuania proved tonight, it’s about being able to take a punch and get back up again.

I am believing more and more the stars might just be aligned for LT this go around. I keep thinking back to game one when I said that losing big was the best thing to happen to us.

I said that losing lit the initial fire under the team to work hard to come together as a squad.

Then in game two they showed how they can feed off the energy of the fanatical Lithuanian fans to dominate a good team. That was also the best possible outcome.In this match, they narrowly escaped a defeat when they were losing the majority of the time and a lesser team would have given up.

They won by playing through the adversity and coming back multiple times.

This is ALSO the best thing to happen to this team! This team doesn’t have the star power of their heavy hitters and is very young but somehow is gelling together with great chemistry and making us all very proud of them! Yes, they had a little Rocky Balboa in them tonight and that is a beautiful thing! Let’s see if the momentum of two wins in a row carries over to the upcoming match against a very solid Czech national team. This Czech team had beaten team USA a couple years ago and has a few heavy hitters of its own on it. This will be the biggest test for this iteration of the Lithuanian national basketball team and one I truly believe they will pass!

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