Russia beat Lithuania to reach semi-finals
LONDON - Russia made the most out of their strength under the basket to beat Lithuania 83-74 and advance to the semi-finals of the Olympic men's basketball tournament on Wednesday.
Andrei Kirilenko played his usual brilliant all-round game for Russia, while burly centre Timofey Mozgov operated down low with great effect to carry the Russians to the medals round in a gruelling battle marked by determined defence.
Kirilenko led Russia with 19 points and had a game-high 13 rebounds, while Mozgov added 17 points.
Russia will play either France or Spain in the semi-finals.
"It was a physical game. Lithuania, they're a physical team," said the 7-foot-1 (2.16 m) Mozgov.
"They were strong. The whole game was tough. We had to fight for rebounds, had to fight for position all game. Everybody's tired now but it was a good game."
Mozgov cleaned up around the basket in the first quarter to help lift Russia to a 17-10 first-quarter lead, and Kirilenko took over in the second quarter to allow the Russians to carry a 32-27 lead into the intermission.
Both teams struggled with their shooting in the first game played at the 20,000-seat North Greenwich Arena following preliminary round games played in the cosier 12,000-seat Olympic Basketball Arena.
Lithuania shot a poor 33 percent and Russia was not much better, connecting on 37 percent of their attempts, while making only 5-of-14 foul shots before halftime.
"We were playing great and then we go to the free throw line and we can't throw a ball in the ocean," lamented Russian coach David Blatt.
Both teams began to find the range in the second half.
Kirilenko took the initiative early and Mozgov weighed in later with a pair of dunks that helped Russia to a 52-39 lead toward the end of the third quarter.
Lithuania, however, battled back with an 11-2 run that made it 54-50 going into the fourth quarter.
A three-pointer by Rimantas Kaukenas made it a one-point game at 54-53 before the Russians recovered.
Mozgov and Kirilenko did not suffer the shooting woes of the rest. Kirilenko made 5-of-8 from the floor, and Mozgov was good on six of 11 shots.
The big centre said it was business as usual for Kirilenko, the former NBA Utah Jazz player who will be joining the league's Minnesota Timberwolves next season.
"He played very well," said Mozgov. "You know, I can't remember a game when he played bad."
Kaukenas scored 19 points to lead Lithuania, who made one last push to close within five points at 74-69 with two minutes left before Russia secured victory from the foul line.
"That was a boxing match, and I'm glad we were able to finish ahead on points, not by knockout, for sure," said Russia coach Blatt.
Russia will play either France or Spain in Friday's semi-finals.
(Additional reporting by William James; Editing by Nigel Hunt/Greg Stutchbury)