Size matters in international basketball. So does 3-point shooting. Lithuania exceled in both Sunday and beat Team USA, 110-104 for the Americans first loss after nine straight wins — five in exhibitions and four in FIBA World Cup play. Still, the U.S. secured a bid to the Paris Olympics when Serbia defeated Dominican Republic.
The U.S. will face Italy on Tuesday in the cup quarter-finals.
Mikal Bridges played his best game in Manila, scoring 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting over, including 2-of-3 from deep in 26 minutes. He added three rebounds, two blocks, a steal and an assist. He also was given the assignment of guarding Lithuania’s point guard, Rokas Jokubaitis, who finished with nine points on 3-of-8 shooting.
After a torrid comeback from a 21-point first half deficit, the U.S. nearly got all the way back but down four with 10 seconds left, Bridges attempted a three which missed and wound up launching a Lithuanian fast break. That gave the Baltic nation its final, six-point margin of victory.
Cam Johnson who had DNP on Friday vs. Montenegro played 11 minutes and although he scored only three points, they began the Americans’ comeback.
Anthony Edwards finished with 35 points on 14-of-26 shooting, the only American with more points than Bridges and the Knicks Jalen Brunson who also had 14. Vaidas Kariniauskas scored 15 points, former Knick Mindaugas Kuzminskas added 14 and the Pelicans’ Jonas Valanciunas finished with 12 points and seven rebounds. Lithuania put seven players in double figures.
“We’re fortunate that the loss doesn’t hurt us in terms of our goal, which is to win the gold medal,” U.S. coach Steve Kerr said. “But it’s a great game for us to experience because this is FIBA. There’s some great teams that have continuity, that understand what they’re doing, that execute and I thought Lithuania was brilliant tonight. They deserved to win.”
“Luckily we get to play again,” said Edwards who may have added to the Lithuanians motivation on Thursday when he said he wasn’t worried about Montenegro or Lithuania.
Lithuania started the game so strongly that it looked like the game could end in a blowout, They came out aggressive, bullying the U.S. underneath while going 9-of-9 from deep. With Lithuania up 33-12, Johnson’s three with 9;37 in the second began the turnaround. He quickly followed that with an assist to Edwards on a 3-pointer.
“It started with our miscommunication (on defense),” said Bridges post-game of the U.S. issues early. “They’re a big team and they post well, it’s just … we gotta guard without fouling.”
Indeed, Jaren Jackson Jr., the reigning NBA Defensive Player of Year, picked up three personals early and wound up with one rebound after not securing a board in the U.S. win Friday night.
By at half time, the U.S. was still down by 17. Then, the Americans seemingly woke up, ripping off an 8-0, then 15-2 run. Within 4 minutes and 16 seconds, the U.S. had reduced the lead from 17 to four, led by Bridges who scored nine points in the comeback.
But the Americans could never get over the hump then or in the rest of the game, getting close multiple times but never leading. Unlike a number of Team USA’s previous opponents, the highly experienced Lithuanians never lost their cool. They also didn’t seem to lose a battle for the boards, outrebounding the U.S. 43-27. Montenegro, who also featured an NBA center in Nikola Vucevic, did the same to the undersized U.S. lineup on Friday by a 47-31 count.
Team USA will play Italy next at 8:40 a.m. on Tuesday, New York time, the loss helping them avoid another traditional European big in 6’11” Nikola Milutinov of Serbia, whose NBA rights are held by Brooklyn.
Here’s the bracket for the last week of the World Cup…
Here's the FIBA World Cup bracket:— Kristian Winfield (@Krisplashed) September 3, 2023
Team USA plays Italy in the quarterfinal. The winner will face the winner of Germany/Latvia in the semifinal.
The winners of Lithuania/Serbia and Canada/Slovenia will also play each other. The two semifinal losers will play for bronze. #FIBAWC… pic.twitter.com/7dn1irDCUF
- Box Score: Lithuania 110, Team USA 103 - FIBA
- Game Highlights: Lithuania 110, Team USA 103 (Video) - FIBA
- Highlights: Jonas Valanciunas / 12 points (Video) - FIBA
- US falls to Lithuania at Basketball World Cup but still qualifies for Paris Olympics - Tim Reynolds - AP
- Mikal Bridges’ standout World Cup game marred by late miss - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Lithuania hands USA first FIBA World Cup loss, but Americans punch ticket to Paris Olympics - Joe Vardon - The Athletic
- Team USA loses to Lithuania; Italy up next in FIBA quarters - Brian Windhorst - ESPN
- How did they do it? Three takeaways from Lithuania’s win over USA - FIBA