Great Britain were defeated 80-69 by Lithuania in a thrilling opening game of EuroBasket 2011 despite a dogged performance against the tournament hosts.

Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng hit a game-high 25 points as GB shook off the loss of starting centre Rob Archibald to illness beforehand to give one of the title favourites a huge fright in front of a deafening 7000-strong crowd in Panevezys.

Chris Finch’s men, who meet Turkey in their second tie on Thursday, led 16-10 early in the tie and, having trailed 49-39 at half-time, had the temerity to begin the final quarter in front after coming from as much as 12 down with an 18-3 run in the third which was inspired by Joel Freeland.

However, with GB getting almost no offensive help from their bench, Lithuania went ahead for good when Simas Jasaitis hit a three-pointer with six minutes left amid a 16-2 burst which ultimately proved fatal.

“Their depth and experience still comes through,” Finch lamented. “We wanted to be there in the fourth quarter and we were. We just had to have to find a way to keep staying in these games. If we do that enough, we’ll get our fair share.”

It could have been one for the ages but, as Britain learnt in London in the recent Olympic test tournament, there are no moral victories. They led 6-0 with back-to-back three pointers from Deng and Nate Reinking. Even when Lithuania ignited to reel off eight consecutive points, they remained calm amid the internal storm brewing within the Cido Arena.

Calls went against GB. Finch would acquire a technical on the sidelines as his team slipped off the pace in the second period. Still his players fought, Dan Clark flinging himself for rebounds and hitting tough shots. Freeland again showing his undoubted class even as the home side’s plethora of proven performers summoned their years of experience.

Deng was inspirational but tired (Map Photos)

When Darius Songalia increased Lithuania’s advantage to 51-39 with the opening score of the second half, there was a dramatic reply. Deng ignited a 10-0 run and when Britain hit the last six points of the third, they sat 57-54 ahead.

Lithuania summoned their nerve. Again, Britain’s lack of a proven point guard proved an Achilles heel when the pressure mounted. Ogo Adegboye was handed the start, Andrew Lawrence came off the bench but neither factored large as Deng, who added a team-high 10 rebounds, was increasingly urged to assume the role of playmaker.

It was maybe asking a little too much of the South Sudan-born Londoner, Finch conceded.

“I think at times tonight we stood around too much and watched him,” he said. “In the fourth quarter, he got tired and took some tough shots. That’s part of the process. We want the ball in his hands. But the shots just didn’t go in.”

Reinking hit from long-range to give his team their final lead at 61-60 but veteran pair Rimantas Kaukenas and Sarunas Jasikevicius delivered as the so often have, scoring 16 and 13 respectively and managing the crisis until it was over.

It was not to be Britain’s shock. The breaks didn’t go their way. Another lesson learnt and the tests will keep on coming.

Turkey will be no easier. “Turkey are a similar team and they’ve got a lot of size as well,” Finch added. “We need a good bench performance tomorrow and we’ve got to finish a little better.”

But NBA All Star Hedo Turkoglu expects the British to pose a threat. The Orlando Magic forward helped his side beat Portugal 78-56 in their opener to establish themselves among the favourites for the European title. “They’re really athletic,” he said. “They have good players. We’ll be watching some film and trying to prepare ourselves.”

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Turkey 78 Portugal 56

Turkey delivered an efficient performance as the world championship runners-up thrashed Portugal 79-56 in their tournament opener.

Defending champions Spain produced a lacklustre debut and had to hold on in the closing minutes before seeing off dogged Poland 83-78. Pau Gasol had a game-high 29 points and came up clutch after the Poles – paced by 19 from Lukasz Koszrek – had rallied from 17 down to come within 2 amid a horrific performance from Spain’s trio of point guards who failed to score.

“It was a typical opener in a major tournament.,” said Jose Calderon. “ It was not easy to win but we did what we had to do when it mattered so in the end we should be satisfied with the win.”

Results. Group A: Lithuania 80 Great Britain 69,  Turkey 78 Portugal 56, Spain 83 Poland 78. Group B: Serbia 80 Italy 68, France 89 Latvai 78, Germany 91 Israel 64, Group C: Montenegro 70 Macedonia 65 (OT), Greece 76 Bosnia 67, Croatia 84 Finland 79. Group D: Georgia 81 Belgium 59, Slovenia 67 Bulgaria 59, Russia 73 Ukraine 64

GB pre-game: GB practiced at the arena this afternoon for 75 minutes, working on offensive drills. Chris Finch confirmed that the starting centre will be a game-time decision between Robert Archibald and Dan Clark (who, along with Drew Sullivan, is fit).

“Emotionally, physically, I think we’re in a good place,” Finch said. “We’re ready. We’ve prepared for them. But the one thing you cant replicate is the atmosphere. It’s going to be mad. We’re looking forward to it and I think the guys will enjoy it.”















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