Sometimes basketball is more than just basketball.
When Russia and Lithuania clash today in the first game of the 2012 Olympic Quarterfinals, it will be mostly just about basketball. However 20 years ago at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Lithuania playing the former USSR was more than just basketball.
FIBA tells the story:
On Wednesday, Lithuania will celebrate 20 years to the day since the seminal moment of their basketball history.
On that day a newly independent Lithuania beat the Commonwealth of Independent States (ex-USSR) to win a bronze medal.
Twenty years later and they prepare to play Russia, this time in the Olympic Quarter-Finals.
The rivalry is still there, but it has changed a little. The focus is very much on the court now.
The Lithuanian team is clear that the past is the past and their minds are squarely aimed at the scoreboard now. To be truthful, that should be more than enough.
As the first game of the day in what is a hotly anticipated start to the Quarterfinals, there will be many eyes on this matchup. The reality is, despite Russia pulling off a fairly dominant 4-1 run through their pool games, Lithuania is the type of squad that can cause upsets.
Led by the sometimes-simmering Linas Kleiza, there is every chance that the Toronto Raptors forward, along with veteran guard Sarunas Jasikevicius will pull their troops together to take down the Russians, in the same way as Patty Mills did for Australia.
Of course, Lithuania have plenty of weaknesses. The biggest one of all may be their propensity to foul, with the team in green averaging a tournament-high 24 fouls per game. Thankfully for them, the Russians have been shooting a disappointing 67.7% from the free throw line and have been relatively poor at getting to the stripe at all.
Most observers will be expecting the fire of the Russians to take this match out, behind the skill and intensity of Andrei Kirilenko and Aleksey Shved. However this game is definitely one to watch, if not for the result, at least for the intensity.
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