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Lavrinovic experience puts Lithuania in first place
MADRID (FIBA Basketball World Cup) - For much of Thursday's gripping 67-64 win over Slovenia to take first place in Gran Canaria's Group D, Lithuania coach Jonas Kazlauskas was searching for answers.
Lithuania's early success pounding the ball inside and crashing the offensive glass had come back to hurt them, with those efforts flattening their offence to the baseline and opening up fastbreak opportunities for the lightning-quick Dragic brothers and friends.
"We don't have perimeter players at the same level as other teams, so everything we have to do with big guys," said Kazlauskas.
"And when you are much more aggressive on offense, it is much more difficult for them to run and transition."
Kazlauskas' first answer was to turn the game into a halfcourt grind.
"We know that if we are going to beat Slovenia first we have to stop transition," he said.
But then the offense at the other end dried up, the Lithuanians scoring just 12 points in 11 minutes across half-time.
That's when Kazlauskas turned to experience.
I have a good bench, and in different moments I can use different players to keep moving forward in the game. - Kazlauskas
"If I need someone inside or for rebounding and blocked shots I have (Jonas) Valanciunas. If I need shooting I have the brothers."
Of course "the brothers" are Ksistof and Darjus Lavrinovic, and Kazlauskas' decision to run with the veteran twins proved a masterstroke.
"They were huge today, huge on defense, especially in the second half and the fourth quarter," said Valanciunas.
"They brought us the win because of their defense."
With the Lavrinovic pair masterminding the pick-and-roll defence to keep the Dragic brothers out of the paint, Lithuania quite incredibly kept the third-highest scoring team in this year's FIBA Basketball World Cup to just two points in the final quarter.
Of course, the Green Machine needed to find a way to score themselves to erase a 12-point deficit, and the man who kept delivering for Kazlauskas was debutante point guard Adas Juskevicius.
While the 25-year-old's stats line wasn't particularly impressive, his ability to withstand Slovenian pressure and still get his team through their offense resulted in Lithuania outscoring their opponents by 14 points in Juskevicius' 21 minutes on court.
"I was a little bit afraid, you know," he said of the chances of Slovenia running away with the game.
"But we kept our heads up, executed, played defense and won the game.
"We've made our first goal, we are first in the group, now we are looking forward to our next game."
That Round of 16 match-up is against New Zealand, who almost pinched a memorable victory in Lithuania in the tournament lead-up.
Sweet-shooting guards Kirk Penney and Corey Webster were more than a handful for the Lithuanians that night, and Juskevicius is in no doubt what his team must do in Sunday's clash.
"I know they are a good shooting team," he said.
"We need to play aggressive defence and I think that's the key to make it out of that game."