HAMAMATSU (FIBA World Championship) – Lithuania blew a 19-point first-half lead but held off Brazil 79-74 to clinch a place in the last 16 of the FIBA World Championship while ending the South Americans' stay in Japan.
On the final day of an ultra-competitive Group C, Lula Ferreira's team threatened to complete an impressive fightback but with 14 seconds left, Brazil’s hero for the game, Tiago Splitter, missed a lay-up while being closely guarded.
Arvydas Macijauskas grabbed the rebound and with Brazil forced to foul to stop the clock, the Lithuanian Macijauskas sealed victory at the line.
Macijauskas, who is coming off a disappointing year in the NBA with the New Orleans Hornets, finished with a game-high 21 points.
Splitter, a former team-mate of Macijauskas at Tau Ceramica in Spain, was sensational in defeat, scoring 17 on seven of 12 shooting.
He also pulled down seven boards, dished out two assists, came up with three steals and blocked one shot.
The loss means that Australia, who won earlier in the day over Qatar, join Greece, Turkey and Lithuania in Saitama for the knockout round.
Lithuania hit their stride immediately against Brazil and opened up a 35-12 lead by the end of the first quarter, making five of their first six three-pointers.
They enjoyed their biggest advantage when Macijauskas went in for a lay-up to make it 43-24 with 6:37 to play in the first half.
Brazil turned up the pressure on defense and closed the gap to 48-37 by half-time, though, after forcing 14 Lithuania turnovers.
Early in the second half, the Brazilians cut the deficit to 48-41 on Splitter’s jumper in the lane, and Lithuania didn’t score until Mindaugas Zukauskas’ reverse lay-up with 5:48 to go in the third period.
Splitter hit another jumper to make it 50-45, but Darius Songaila, who shot to fame as a member of his country's bronze-medal winning side at the Olympics in 2000, stepped forward and hit back-to-back baskets to take the lead back to 54-45.
What happened next almost killed Brazil’s hopes.
Linas Kleiza bulled his way into the lane and scored over Alex Garcia, who was furious that no charge was called and the referees hit the guard – he was playing at forward in Brazil’s small line-up – with a technical.
Kleiza made both technical free throws, and Darius Lavrinovic dunked to make it a four-point swing after Alex’s loss off composure.
The Lithuanians struggled in their offense and committed turnover after turnover, though – they had 27 for the game – and Brazil came back again.
Marcelinho’s three-pointer at the start of the fourth quarter triggered a 13-0 run, capped by Leandro Barbosa’s three-ball to make it 64-62 in favour of Lithuania.
Giedrus Gustas, who struggled in the early games at point guard, came to the fore and nailed a three-pointer, but Nezinho replied from the arc and it was again just a two-point lead for Lithuania.
Macijauskas struck twice, the second time from the arc, and Lithuania held a 72-65 advantage.
But Nezinho again buried a three, and after Splitter, Barbosa and Nezinho each made one of two free throws, Brazil trailed 72-71.
Gustas again stepped up and hit a three, but Brazil refused to go away.
Anderson Varejao’s jumper made it 75-73, and after Kleiza charged, Alex had a chance to tie the game but yet again, he was able to make just one of two from the line to leave Lithuania ahead at 75-74.
That set the stage for Gustas to make one of two at the line, and after Splitter missed his shot with 14 seconds left, Macijauskas made three free throws down the stretch to seal victory for Lithuania.
Antanas Sireika, the Lithuania coach, said: "Tonight we played a very tough game. A lot of periods we didn't play well, the quality wasn’t very good, but we still won so I'm happy.
"You can't plan things ahead. Tonight we felt almost the same scenario like what happened yesterday with Greece and Brazil, but happily we won."
By Jeff Taylor