The first day of the European Championship – and immediately the most powerful sign! Slovenia vs. Lithuania is a dish that is hard to get enough of. Always wanting more and more. And if we remember that in 2020 these teams already met in the final match for a ticket to the Olympics, then it will be quite interesting. Then the game was played in Kaunas with crowded Lithuanian stands, but Luka Doncic put a fat cross on the plans of the Baltic national team with the help of his magic.
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Actually, the match in the German Cologne practically repeated the entourage of the game two years ago. The whole point is that the fans of the Lithuanian national team were in a numerical majority and even from the warm-up it was far from clear that their boys could feel at home.
Slovenes, by the way, were not really given home hospitality. And the conversation here is not about the fans, but about the organizers who forgot to send a bus to the team’s hotel. As a result, the entire delegation of the current champions of Europe had to hastily order a taxi and go to the arena in small (compared to two-meter basketball players) cars.
But everything was as it should be during the warm-up. The stands greeted Slovenia with whistles, but Luka Dončić is always amused by such attention. The Dallas Mavericks star is used to having fans seethe after his incredible hits. And in the first reigns, the number 77 in his signature slow style was alone against the big Jonas Valanciunas and scored a three-pointer on a high trajectory.
A smile (or a slight smirk) did not leave the face of the leader of the national team of Slovenia. Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd, who flew to Germany to personally observe the actions of his main and most expensive (in every sense) basketball player, smiled a little more modestly.
Luka Doncic is in attack
Photo: Picture alliance via Getty Images
In the first minutes, the Lithuanians seemed to pay too much attention to Doncic, forgetting that the point guard distributes passes magnificently to his partners, pulling down several rivals. Similar hyperactivity responded to the Baltic national team with five long shots from seven attempts. And if it weren’t for the effective actions of Lukas Lekavicius, who made a great shot in the middle of the first ten minutes, the difference could well have been double-digit.
The second quarter again confirmed the two most important theses about the Slovenian national team: the team does not depend on the mood of the leader and fantastically uses insurance to protect the “paint”. Every time the Lithuanians brought such a ball to Valančunas or Sabonis, there were two or even three opponent’s defenders next to them.
The fantastic lightness and freshness of ex-players of Russian clubs caught my eye. Mindovg Kuzminskas and Marus Grigonis played for Zenit and CSKA, respectively, until February, and then they packed up and the season ended for them. Such unpaid leave benefited both. At the very least, they were truly the best of their team in terms of impact on the game on both ends of the floor.
The main episode before the big break was a blow to Doncic’s face. The Slovenian swung at the arc of Valanciunas, and he, trying to knock the ball out, hit it well with a big palm. The referees watched the episode, but did not see an unsportsmanlike foul. Luka punished the Lithuanians already in the next attack in a signature pass with a stick on the last step – 39:33.
EuroBasket 2022 match between Slovenia and Lithuania
Photo: GES Sportfoto/Getty Images
The basketball performance continued even after a 15-minute break. The boys of ex-Parma coach Kazis Maksvitsis successfully defended themselves in several consecutive attacks, and Marus Grigonis scored five points in a row. For a second, it seemed that some kind of fatigue appeared in the actions of the Slovenians. They tried to simplify the game, while the opponent blocked all passing lanes.
But it turned out that simplification is the most accurate way for the team of Alexander Sekulych, who signed a contract with “Lokomotiv Kuban” even before the Eurobasket and will come to the VTB league after the tournament. Quick passes right under the ring, where Čančar and Tobi were already on the alert, filled the eyes of Slovenia’s players with life again.
Doncic was far from his best games, but he did his best in the end. Even in the middle of the second half, he scored with two hands, as if showing everyone that he was ready for such feats. Well, in the end, it was Luka who became the author of several effective passes at once, after which the team received important (and accurate) points from under the ring.
With 1.50 left in the fourth quarter, a key moment occurred. Lithuania was losing 81:86 and was on the attack. Sabonis got the ball between the three-second mark and the three-pointer. Doncic defended himself against him, trying to take a position as close as possible to the body of the central opponent. Damantas spread his elbows and tried to free himself some precious space to maneuver. It didn’t work – the elbow of one of the leaders of the Lithuanian national team hit Doncic in the face. After the review, the referees were unanimous – it was an unsportsmanlike foul. Luka hit both shots, again smiling at the crowd of Lithuania fans who are giving him the middle finger.
The final score is 92:85. Doncic has 14 points + 10 assists + 6 rebounds and the first victory for his team at the tournament. The reigning European champions will play their next match against Hungary on September 3, while Lithuania will play against France on the same day.