The Estonian men's national basketball team defeated traditional basketball powerhouse Lithuania (92:85) and Latvia (84:67) over the weekend on their way to victory in the Baltic Chain Tournament, which marks 100 years of Estonian basketball.
On Friday, the opening day of the three-team tournament, Estonia defeated Lithuania in overtime 92:85 (24:21, 23:23, 16:18, 14:15, 15:8), with 26 points from 19-year old guard Kerr Kriisa who went 8/12 from the three-point line.
The game was close from the outset, with Estonia taking a 47:44 lead into halftime. Estonia was able to extend their lead to nine in the third quarter, but Lithuania fought back to 63:62 before the final period of regulation time.
Thanks to Kriisa's hot hand, Estonia was able to take a 77:72 lead in the fourth quarter, which Lithuania managed to equalize two minutes before match ended. The teams thus headed to overtime at 77:77.
Estonia won the overtime period 15:8, with Kriisa alone scoring as many points as the Lithuanian side in total. Sander Raieste and Rauno Nurger added five points and Kristjan Kitsing calmly sinked two free throws to put an exclamation point on a great win for Estonia.
This marks the first victory for Estonia over the three-time European champions since the Restoration of Independence in 1991. The last time the teams met in Tallinn (1998), Estonia had to accept a 91:60 loss. In 2015, a close game ended with a 64:62 victory for Lithuania.
Kriisa, who is soon heading to the U.S. to play college-level basketball, seemed fired up afterwards, even though a reporter pointed out it was a friendly match.
Kriisa quipped: "It doesn't matter if it's a friendly match. It doesn't matter at all. They came with EuroLeague players, they came with EuroCup players. Don't take it away from us. Stop talking. We played our heart out. It feels very good. Trust me."
The young point guard admitted that the victory meant a lot to him: "I heard for two years in Lithuania that I was from Estonia and we are not a basketball nation and so on. I shed a tear after the match. It means a lot to me and to everyone else."
19-year old Kriisa will continue his playing career with NCAA Division I powerhouse Arizona Wildcats, after playing two seasons for Kaunas Žalgiris in Lithuania.
Sunday's match against Latvia
On Sunday, the Estonian side capped off their tournament with a 84:67 (24:9, 12:21, 24:18, 24:19) victory over Latvia, including NBA hopeful Henri Drell's 16 points. Team captain Siim-Sander Vene added 15 points.
Estonia started the game on a 7:0 run and did not give up the lead once, winning the first period 24:9. Although the Latvians fought back in the second period, the home team was able to keep a steady pace, extending their lead to 17 points by the end of the match.
Leading scorer Drell commented after the match: "Today was my day, [Friday] was Kerr's day. We have a great connection in this team. Overall, we have good chemistry in Estonia. I was prepared individually as well becuase I was disappointed in my contribution against Lithuania."
Latvia, who participated in the tournament with many young players from their second-unit lost to Lithuania on Saturday 82:59, giving Lithuania second place in the exhibition tournament, held to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Estonian basketball.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste