Taipei, Aug. 20 (CNA) New Orleans Pelicans big man Jonas Valančiūnas was dominant in Lithuania’s 93-80 victory over Puerto Rico in New Taipei on Saturday in a warm-up for the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
The Baltic giant had game highs of 20 points and 11 rebounds in just over 19 minutes on the floor, and four of his teammates also scored in double figures as the Lithuanians lived up to their world No. 8 ranking at Xinzhuang Gymnasium.
Valančiūnas was the only NBA player in Saturday’s game as injuries sidelined three-time NBA All-Star Domantas Sabonis of the Sacramento Kings and Puerto Rico’s Jose Alvarado, a teammate of Valančiūnas with the Pelicans.
The Lithuanian’s game has not always received the highest praise, with Bleacher Report in July calling him of the NBA’s five most overrated players.
But when asked about that Saturday, Valančiūnas said “I don’t really follow those” and will just “go by my heart,” while preferring to talk about how well balanced the Lithuanian team has become both inside and outside the three-point line.
“Everybody is shooting threes now; everybody is running the floor, but we balance that with a game inside the paint,” he said.
Lithuania head coach Kazys Maksvytis praised the Pelicans center for his efficiency on the court despite the limited time he has trained with the national team, but said the team needed to improve its transition defense.
Despite the absence of some NBA players, Saturday’s game still sparked oohs and ahhs from the crowd courtesy of Puerto Rico’s Jordan Howard and Tremont Waters.
The two guards combined for 30 points and showed off their ball-handling and ability to make tough shots, with passes that threaded the team together and helped Puerto Rico take the upper hand at one point.
“I could tell obviously from [the audience’s] excitement that they were enjoying the passes and the way my guys were making shots off the passes. So from my heart I definitely appreciated the love and excitement,” Waters said with a big smile after the game.
Nelson Colón, head coach of world No. 20 Puerto Rico, said his staff would review the game footage and fix any problems ahead of their game Sunday against Latvia at 2 p.m.
Team Puerto Rico’s World Cup goal is to make it to the round of 16, Colón said.
Lithuania will have a two-day break before playing Latvia in the last World Cup exhibition game in Taiwan, according to the schedule.
The 2023 FIBA World Cup is being held Aug. 25 to Sept. 10 across the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia.
Lithuania, Latvia and Puerto Rico are in Group D, H and B, respectively, and the top two from each four-team group will advance to the round of 16.
Meanwhile, a fan event featuring Boston Celtics’ big man Kristaps Porziņģis and Oklahoma City Thunder’s Dāvis Bertāns will be held 30 minutes after the conclusion of Sunday’s game, giving fans with tickets the opportunity to see the NBA stars up close.
Tickets for the exhibition games can be purchased on the tixcraft ticketing platform.