I don’t know where to start actually. Everything was prepared for a classic semifinal game between Spain and Lithuania, the only thing that stood in the home-teams way was this small country from former Yugoslavia, F.Y.R. of Macedonia. A small country, with a tiny roster, who have played more or less six players during the championship, this said without taking away anything from the effort and result this team has done so far, they have played excellent basketball and everyone knows their own role within the team.
But this is sport, and anything can happen, and if you are not there 100%, you are also not 100% in control of the outcome of the game. 15000 people in the stands, fans hoping, believing and dreaming about making history and success in Lithuania, the “home of basketball”. I don’t think that Lithuania underestimated F.Y.R. of Macedonia. Every team reaching the quarterfinal is of course a good team worth earning that spot. But I think that maybe the Lithuanian team expected an outcome of the game where they would win with about 10-15 points. That I believe everyone of the Lithuanian fans in Kaunas Arena also thought.
So, what about expecting an outcome, can’t it just be changed during a game when the game by itself moves in another direction than everyone expected? I don’t think so, and this is the complicated part of expecting things in advance. If things don’t develop in the expected way it is very difficult to change. First you think that it will be okay, the team just need to get a few points and a few stops and the margins will be in your side, everything will be fine, and the expected result will be there. But then when the game is still close, when you haven’t created that gap you needed, then you start to feel stressed, and then it’s getting dangerous.
You hope you will make shots instead of just making them. You hope to get stops instead of going out and making stops in defense. You are getting passive instead of being active. And this, is what is happening in a stressful situation, you loose the power of playing in the moment, enjoying every single part of the game, you become afraid of loosing instead of hungry to win. And sadly, this is what happened to the home team last night, Lithuania just weren’t playing enough in the moment, they were worrying, they were hoping, like everyone in the Arena, that things will go their way. I remember one part with one minute left of the game when Jankunas went to the FT-line for a bonus shot. He made it and they were up 4 points – 65-61 – at least one shot in between…. and it felt they were creating that gap that would mean victory and everyone might have relaxed just a tiny little bit. And then McCalebb scored a layup, 65-63…. and then the crucial three pointer by Ilievski with 11 seconds to go.
Lithuania only went to the free throw line 8 times, which is one proof of them becoming too passive. 2 out of 15 three-pointers shows that in another way. Maybe it was just me, but I felt they had found a weak spot when Songaila scored short distance 2 points shots around the lane in the second half, but they never really stayed with it, he was out again shooting long distance shots…
On the other hand F.Y.R. of Macedonia played without pressure, they kept shooting even if they missed and they just kept attacking the basket. What can you say about Bo McCalebb? He is just slicing up each defense with his penetrations and he really got skills when you talk about finishing close to the basket.
Even though this is a big set-back for Lithuania in this competition the tournament is not over and the chance of reaching the Olympics is still there. Coach Kemzura said “It’s a huge disappointment for us but we have to show character. Our European Championship is not finished.” The fight for the 5th and 6th spots will be crucial because these two spots means two tickets to the Olympic Qualifying Round prior to next year Olympic games in London. Finally I must say that I’m impressed by young Jonas Valanciunas, after the loss he was the one clapping his hands for the crowd and showed his appreciation to all of the fans – that was big!