USA and Lithuania get the last four of the FIBA World Cup underway on Thursday and bring the tournament’s festivities to a close in Barcelona, as Madrid will then become the focal point of the basketball world.
Many are expecting the USA to come away with the victory and move on to Madrid and play the Final on Sunday night, but over the last 14 years, these teams have played out exciting affairs that unlike all of USA’s games so far in this FIBA World Cup have mainly gone down to the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
2000 Sydney Olympics
After an 85-76 win in group play, the USA and Lithuania met again in the semi-finals in 2000 Olympics. USA defeated a strong Lithuania side 85-83 in perhaps one of the great Olympic encounters since NBA players were allowed to compete for the Americans in 1992.
Tied at 80-80 with a minute left, neither team could be separated. USA held an 84-81 lead thanks to a bucket inside from Antonio McDyess. Sarunas Jasikevicius drove inside for an easy two and with 9.4 seconds left, they quickly fouled Jason Kidd, which sent the now Milwaukee Bucks head coach to the foul line.
Kidd hit his first and missed the second. A mad scramble gave the Lithuanians the ball and with four ticks left, it was on Jasikevicius to give the emerging Lithuanians their most famous victory ever. Sadly his three-pointer was way short leaving the Americans to celebrate – but make no mistake – the USA were put on notice, it was a sign that teams around the world were catching up to the U.S., post-1992.
2004 Athens Olympics
The two teams played each other twice again four years later in Athens, but this time, it was honours even as Lithuania got the better of a USA side that featured a very young Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James.
An impressive 28 points from Sarunas Jasikevicius, which included seven three-pointers handed his side a quarter-final clinching 94-90 win. USA would later advance after beating Angola.
USA and Lithuania would go on to lose their semi-final games to Argentina and Italy respectively, but the United States would gain a measure of revenge in the bronze medal game by beating the Lithuanians 104-96 to reach the podium.
2010 world championships
The two teams would have to wait six years before they faced again, but USA, led by Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant, who was preparing for his fourth season in the NBA, toppled Lithuania 89-74 in the world championship, semi-final in Istanbul. The USA would go on to thrash hosts Turkey in the Final 81-64, leaving Lithuania to claim the bronze by beating Serbia 99-88.
Durant exploded for 38 points, including five three-pointers, as the U.S. overcame a third quarter surge by the Baltic nation to claim the win.
2012 London Olympics
USA; stacked with possibly their strongest team since the 2008 Olympics eventually saw-off a stubborn Lithuania 99-94 at the now demolished Basketball Arena in Stratford. After leading 33-25 after the first quarter, the Americans looked on course to build on their strong start. But unlike the teams that the U.S. played before them, Lithuania attacked the world champions for the remaining three quarters, and it wasn’t until the fourth period that the USA pulled away.
LeBron James hit 20 points and a game-changing fast break slam in the final three minutes for the Americans, while Linas Kleiza had a game-high 25 points for Lithuania.
USA went on to claim back-to-back gold medals, beating Spain in a rematch of the 2008 gold medal clash, while Lithuania crashed out in the quarter-finals, by losing to Russia.
Strengths of each team?
Lithuania: Jonas Valanciunas should have his way in the paint on Thursday, and on the opposite side, USA coach Mike Krzyzewski, who said after the win against Slovenia that he had not studied the Lithuanians will of course be aware of Valanciunas’ threat as well as Darjus Lavrinovic and Donatas Motiejunas.
Lithuania’s forwards need to have the service to be able to score and draw fouls. They need to be aggressive and box out on loose balls, something that the Slovenians failed to do in the quarter-finals against the Americans.
The weakness for the Eurobasket runners-up will come at the point guard spot, which is a position that the USA will look to expose quickly, so that the aforementioned service to the big men inside is minimal. While Martynas Pocius and Renaldas Seibutis are good players, they are not on the level of Kyrie Irving or Derrick Rose in terms of pace, ball handling security and strength.
The USA will look to their guards (as said) for offensive and defensive production. Irving and Rose will be vital components for the Americans on the defensive end, as they will be matched up with former Duke product Pocius and Seibutis. Kenneth Faried will be a constant factor offensively, but the three-point threats of Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and James Harden will be the main offensive key for the USA, as Lithuania’s perimeter defence throughout this tournament has been suspect.
USA and Lithuania play on Thursday night, tip-off at 21:00.
Photo: FIBA (2010 world championships)