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Domantas Sabonis and Lithuania beat Brazil in Olympic opener

Despite a furious second-half rally, Brazil comes up short thanks to a late Sabonis basket.

Brazil v Lithuania Men's Basketball - Olympics: Day 2 Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

For the first time since that game against Syracuse, Gonzaga fans got to see Domantas Sabonis back on the court in a real game. And, thanks to a late Sabonis three-point play, the Lithuanian men’s basketball team opened its Olympic games with a narrow victory against host Brazil 82-76.

The Group B opener looked to be a laugher with Lithuania dominating the Brazilians for the first two-and-a-half quarters of gameplay, highlighted by a first half in which Lithuania shot 73% from the field as they encountered no pressure from the hosts. But, Brazil overcame its early malaise and forced Lithuania to sweat it out during a tense final 4 minutes after erasing a 30-point second-half deficit, but ultimately failed to dig all the way out of the monster hole they created for themselves.

Sabonis finished the game with 10 points, 2 rebounds, 1 steal and 3 turnovers in 19 minutes. He started the game in the frontcourt alongside Toronto Raptors stalwart Jonas Valanciunas, but had a jittery start to his Olympic career, taking a seat 3 1/2 minutes into the first quarter as he struggled to get a foothold in the game. After taking a few minutes to catch his breath, Sabonis notched his first basket late in the first quarter on a deep post-up accentuated by his patented pump fake/step-through move which he used to great effect during his collegiate career.

Sabonis displayed his ever-present grit and toughness throughout the game, but it was surprising to see him fail to have a major impact on the boards. Sabonis was Gonzaga’s best rebounder in many years, but today’s game indicated there will likely be a transition phase for him as he starts battling in the trenches against bigger and stronger NBA athletes.

With Lithuania opting to switch on screens while playing defense, Sabonis found himself out on the perimeter several times during the game. While he showed he has the foot-speed to handle himself out there, he got a taste of what it will be like to guard NBA guards off-the-dribble as Leandro Barbosa was able to score on him a handful of times. Most importantly, the need for Sabonis to develop a reliable right hand on offense revealed itself several times throughout the game, as he’ll need to be able to finish with both hands against better talent than he saw in college.

Though there were some noted areas for improvement, Sabonis acquitted himself well in his Olympic debut. Mark Few calls him one of his favorite players ever, and maybe the hardest working player to go through the program, so there’s no doubt he’ll continue to improve as he gains experience. At 20 years old, he’ll be one of the anchors for the Lithuanian national team for a long time. And, as evidenced several times throughout today’s game when the announcers made several mentions to Mark Few and the basketball program, he will be a flag-bearer for Gonzaga on the NBA and international stage for many years to come.

Sabonis and his Lithuanian compatriots are back in action against Nigeria on Tuesday, August 9