Eurobasket 2017: Greece – Lithuania Preview
Fresh-off beating Poland to clinch a berth in the knockout rounds at Eurobasket 2017, Greece lock horns with Lithuania in Turkey on Saturday night in what is a highly-anticipated Round of 16 match-up.
An emphatic fourth quarter against Poland catapulted Greece into the final knockout round berth out of Group A; a feat that seemed impossible after Greece dropped three consecutive games prior to their game with Poland.
While Greece scraped through the group stage to finish fourth in Group A, Lithuania impressed with a 5-0 record in a group that contained Germany, Italy, Ukraine, Georgia, and Israel.
With Lithuania’s impressive showing in their group, it’s no surprise that Greece are underdogs heading into Saturday’s contest. A versatile Lithuanian squad pose a threat in the paint with Jonas Valanciunas, while guard Mantas Kalnietis has been a clutch playmaker for Lithuania.
Despite a strong start to their tournament, Greece were dealt successive blows to their confidence with defeats to France, Slovenia, and Finland putting Greece in an unfavourable position in the knockout round seeding.
Tipped as a contender heading into Eurobasket 2017, Greece have yet to recover from the shock news that Giannis Antetokounmpo was nursing an injury that would ultimately sideline him for the tournament.
Greece has impressed at time this tournament, but a lack of consistency from Kostas Missas’ men has seen the 2005 tournament winners face uphill battles in their matches up to this point. Defensive struggles being the main headache for Missas, Greece’s offense hasn’t been efficient enough to counteract defensive inefficiencies.
While Greece would have preferred a higher ranking in their group ahead of the knockout rounds in Turkey, an encouraging sight could be the resurgence of Greece’s backcourt. Kostas Sloukas and Nikos Calathes combined for 50 points in Wednesday’s defeat of Poland, with the pair playing a dynamic role in a 25-10 run in the fourth quarter to clinch qualification.
The likes of Sloukas and Calathes will likely need to provide an encore performance on Saturday, but with Lithuania’s offense among the best at Eurobasket 2017 Greece will need to also be effective on defense.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo won’t be able to provide the same impact that his younger brother would offer, but he does offer Greece a boost off the bench and will need to be on his game to stymie the Lithuania offense.
In addition to Antetokounmpo, Greece’s big men will face a stiff test in neutralizing Valanciunas. While both sides have a dynamic lineup in the back-end, the battle in the paint between one of Ioannis Bourousis or Georgios Papagiannis against Valanciunas will go a long way in determining who emerges from Saturday’s scalp.
Valanciunas might be Lithuania’s danger man around the rim, but Greece’s attention needs to be focused on more than just the Toronto Raptors center. Kalnietis’ playmaking abilities have been on full display at Eurobasket 2017, allowing the Emporio Armani Milano guard to be a joint leader for assists with Finland’s Petteri Koponen.
In addition to Kalnietis, Adas Juskevicius is playing his best basketball for Lithuania and provides a threat from three-point range – a threat that will likely stretch the Greek defense. Perhaps the most impressive part of Lithuania’s game plan is the ability for the backcourt to be versatile, an attribute that has also contributed to an important presence for Jonas Maciulis.
Much like Greece, Lithuania’s bench provides excellent depth, with Mindaugas Kuzminskas expected to continue to feature heavily in rotation on Saturday.
Look for Lithuania to expose Greece’s shaky defense with a mix of plays in the paint through Valanciunas, and high-end shooting from the backcourt.
Greece will need to be swift with their double-team coverage, but the main defensive success will be based on how effective Greece’s man-to-man coverage is and if the Greek defensive core can switch effectively enough to keep Lithuania’s offense in check.
Offensively, it’s no secret that Greece’s guard play is a key factor on the team offensive efficiency. Sloukas will need to be a key figure offensively and will need to remain efficient with his shooting, while Calathes will need to balance his game with scoring and providing outlets to Greece’s forwards.
After a miserable group stage, Kostas Papanikolaou will need to elevate his game to the levels that has allowed him to be a coveted player for Olympiacos. Foul troubles have been the main concern, meaning Papanikolaou will need to be disciplined as he is likely going to be tasked with covering an experienced adversary in Maciulis.