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Valanciunas scores 26, leads Lithuania past Italy


(From L) Lithuania’s forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Lithuania’s center Jonas Valanciunas, Lithuania’s point guard Mantas Kalnietis and Lithuania’s power forward Paulius Jankunas react during the round of 8 basketball match between Italy and Lithuania at the EuroBasket 2015 in Lille, northern France, on September 16, 2015. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUEN (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)

AFP/Getty Images

If you want to know why Jonas Valanciunas got paid by the Raptors this summer, you simply needed to watch the EuroBasket semi-finals — big men with that kind of offensive touch and skill are rare.

Valanciunas scored 26 points on 11-of-13 shooting, and pulled down 15 rebounds, doing a lot of damage to the soft interior of the Italian defense and advancing Lithuania to the EuroBasket semi-finals against Serbia Friday. The winner of that game will get their golden ticket for the Rio Olympics next summer. Italy, with this loss, is headed to a qualification tournament next summer where it will try to grab one of the three final spots in the Olympic tournament.

France and Spain will face off in the other EuroBasket semifinal.

Lithuania and Italy played a back-and-forth, physical game that was tight the entire way but saw plenty of swings. For example, this was a one-point game at halftime, but Lithuania attacked the rim and stretched the lead out to 10 quickly in the third. Then Italy knocked down a couple of threes, went on a 10-2 run and by the end of the third quarter it was a one-point game again.

It was tight enough that the game went to overtime, sent there by a driving Danilo Gallinari layup with 32 seconds left that tied the game 79-79. The Nuggets’ forward finished the game with 17 points.

In overtime, the key play was a flop that the referees wisely did not call. Lithuania was up two, when Mantas Kalnietis (who played for the Pacers at NBA Summer League) started a drive and bumped Italy’s Daniel Hackett — and Hacket went sprawling to the ground trying to sell a call. The referees were not buying it. Hacket (who played his college ball at USC) was way out of position and Kalnietis nailed a wide-open three. It was a five-point game with two minutes to go after that, and Italy could never quite recover.

In overtime, Lithuania went to the Kalnietis/Valanciunas high pick-and-roll nearly every time down, and Italy just did not have a defensive answer.

Andrea Bargnani led Italy with 21 points, on 8-of-22 shooting, and he did have a couple of key baskets late to make sure the game reached overtime. Marco Belinelli added 18 points, but was 3-of-11 from three. As a team, Italy was 8-of-28 from three, and they are a team that needs the long ball to fall to win.

The other star for Lithuania — as he has been all tournament — is Real Madrid’s Jonas Maciulis, who dropped 18 in this game on 8-of-14 shooting. Kalnietis finished with 14 points.