Team USA has taken a few losses over the decades in major international competition when roster flaws have been exposed, focus has been an issue and when an adversary puts together a brilliant performance.
Sometimes it’s the result of more than one of those factors, and that was the case Sunday night in the FIBA World Cup. Lithuania added to its illustrious history by scoring another victory over the U.S., bullying and out-executing the Americans in a 110-104 triumph.
Lithuania put together a sensational performance, blending its advantages and rising to the occasion. Some loose balls went its way and the officiating was puzzling at times, but it was a fair-and-square impressive showing.
Team USA had a 15-2 run in the third quarter and cut the lead to four points in the final minute, but it was always out of position and never appeared poised to overtake the Lithuanians.
Nine different Lithuania players made a 3-pointer, six had at least three rebounds, six had at least two assists and five scored in double figures. Team USA was led by a valiant Anthony Edwards, who never relented and concluded with 35 points, just three off Kevin Durant’s Team USA scoring record. Mikal Bridges also played tirelessly and scored 14 points plus worked as hard as anyone on defense and in chasing loose balls.
Looking for the best online betting site and Live betting? Visit Heritage Sports!
But it just wasn’t good enough, as the U.S. was effectively outplayed for much of the game as its strategy and weaknesses were exploited.
“I hate losing, I probably won’t sleep much tonight,” Team USA coach Steve Kerr said. “But for us to get better, we needed to feel this, we needed to respond the way we did.”
There was an unexpected positive to come out of the night.
Because of losses by the Dominican Republic, Brazil and Puerto Rico, the USA clinched a berth in the Paris Olympics. That might have been assumed but was far from assured as the loss was a reminder of the fragility in the international game.
The record shows that Mindaugas Kuzminskas (14 points), Vaidas Kariniauskas (15) and Jonas Valanciunas (12) led Lithuania in scoring, but credit for the victory could go to the entire roster.
It isn’t the biggest victory in Lithuania history — that remains the 1992 Olympic bronze medal victory over the Russian unified team — but it is on the short list, alongside its 2004 Olympic win over Team USA in Athens. And Lithuania did it with a terrific game plan that exploited the Americans’ lack of size and took advantage of an array of mistakes.
The Lithuanians came into the game leading the World Cup in team rebounding and 3-point shooting. That is a combo they shoved right in the Americans’ faces.
Lithuania made its first nine 3-point attempts and was coldly efficient in getting the shots — almost all of them were wide open. That was a result of the U.S. trying to throw some double-teams at the Lithuania bigs, which Lithuania expected as it flung it around to the open shooters.
When the U.S. didn’t double-team, the Lithuanians attacked size advantages in the post. In one memorable moment, Kariniauskas scored on Reaves in the post and drew a foul, and then stuck his tongue out at Reaves to the shock of the Filipino crowd, which adores Reaves.
“Nothing personal, just love of the game. I played with [Reaves’ brother, Spencer], so I talked to him before the game and he said ‘give [Austin] a trash talk,” Kariniauskas said. “So I give him some.”
But the rebounding was the real bedrock story. The Americans had survived getting pounded on the boards earlier in games versus Germany and Montenegro. But neither was as damaging as what happened Sunday as Lithuania just broke them over and over by getting extra possessions. “Luckily we get to play again,” Edwards said. “That’s all I’m thinking about.”
Get all the latest Live Betting and Sport News updates on your social media outlets. Find us on both Facebook and Twitter