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Russia’s defense, running bigs move them past Lithuania

Olympics Day 10 - Basketball

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 06: Andrey Kirilenko #15 of Russia lays on the court after a foul from Australia during the Men’s Basketball Preliminary Round match on Day 10 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Basketball Arena on August 6, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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Lithuania does not make it easy on you, they are a physically and mentally tough side that plays savvy basketball. Just ask Team USA.

Or, ask Russia. The top seed out of Group A had to work hard for an 83-74 win to advance to the semifinals of the London Olympic basketball tournament.

Russia did it with a defense that held Lithuania to 37.3 percent shooting, and they did it with big men running the floor and scoring — Minnesota’s Andrei Kirilenko had 19 points, Denver’s Timofey Mozgov had 17 and was key to Russia’s second half run.

The game was close most of the way. Lithuania got out to an early lead but Russia cranked it up to the defensive pressure and went on an 11-1 run to end the first quarter and lead 17-10. Lithuania started 3-of-16 from the field in the first quarter. Russia does a good job smothering players who get the ball below the free throw line as they use sort of a matchup-zone defense that has worked well.

It was a five point game at the half and in the third quarter Lithuania got that down to 1 point. But Russia responded with a 7-0 run keyed by Mozgov running the floor and connecting with soon-to-be Timberwolves guard Aleksey Shved, who had 6 assists and runs the pick-and-roll very well.

Russia held a small lead through the rest of the game. It was never big enough to call it comfortable, but it was big enough.

With the win Russia assures themselves of two more games. The first will be Friday against the winner or Spain and France. Win that game and they play for the gold, lose and they fight for the bronze.