The first elimination game of the basketball tournament in the 2012 London Olympics was highly anticipated among hoop junkies and Eastern Bloc historians alike. The former Soviet Union (Russia) defeated the first country to declare its independence from the U.S.S.R. (Lithuania) 83-74 to advance to the semifinal against the winner of France-Spain, to be played later Wednesday.
Russia led by a healthy margin until late in the third quarter, when Lithuania cut a 12-point deficit to four in the last minutes of the third quarter, and the fourth and final period was marked with high intensity and lights-out shooting. The star was unquestionably Sergey Monya down the stretch, hitting big three after big three, making big plays with his court vision in the halfcourt and against a frenetic Lithuanian press.
Despite some heroic play from future Toronto Raptor Jonas Valanciunas, playing through what looked like a painful twisted ankle, Lithuania just couldn't get over the hump, never taking the lead. Costly mistakes, such as an unforced turnover with just over a minute to play, were just too much to overcome. Russia played with cohesion and aggression, led by Andrei Kirilenko with 19 points and 13 rebounds, to overcome a sluggish first half rife with poor shooting. They're on the opposite side of the bracket from Team USA, and they look like the second-best team in the field right now.