When the USA have stepped up a gear in this FIBA World Cup, no team has stopped them. Lithuania didn’t change that.
An 18-2 run to start the third quarter was the game-changer as the USA reached the FIBA World Cup Final after seeing-off Lithuania 96-68 in Barcelona’s Palau Saint Jordi on Thursday night.
The Baltic nation were simply stunned in the third, as they struggled to even keep the ball, let alone shoot it. They committed 21 turnovers overall. The Lithuanians first consecutive baskets came with 4:49 left in the third. By then the lead was 20 points – and they were never going to catch the up-tempo Americans, who will now face either France or Serbia in Sunday’s showpiece in Madrid.
“They kept coming at us. That run (in the third quarter) helped. I think it was a great team effort,” said Kyrie Irving, who led the USA with 18 points.
“We have one more game to go. I hope we can do the same on Sunday as well. We are improving with every game. I really think that will be good enough in the Final.”
“I thought Kyrie was special in this game,” USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “In that third quarter he just got us moving. And everybody just started moving with him.”
James Harden added 16, the latter’s tally all coming in the second half.
“It’s always an honour to play against Lithuania,” Krzyzewski added.
“For us, they were more than a worthy opponent tonight, they’re a really good opponent. We fouled like crazy. I can’t think of a game that I’ve coached for the U.S. where it’s 42-20 on free throws. We are usually the aggressor and so in that first half we had three of our starters on two fouls after three minutes. So there was a lot of adversity in this game.”
Mindaugas Kuzminskas led the Lithuanians with 15 points, as they will have to settle for the bronze medal game like they did in 2010, again, at the hands of the Americans.
“They make you play their style of game. That’s the beauty of that team,” said Martynas Pocius, who played for Coach K when he was at Duke. The two hugged, post-game.
Jonas Valanciunas hit the first two of the game under the basket, as the Lithuanians quickly attacked the Americans inside. Anthony Davis was up to the challenge as he scored inside on the next possession.
The referees were a heavy influence in the first five minutes though, as both teams settled to score their points from the foul line. A harsh call on Martynas Pocius saw him called for a foul when he blocked DeMarcus Cousins’ lay-up attempt. Lithuanian coach Jonas Kazlauskas was called for a technical was Steph Curry made no mistake with as the second quarter got underway. The USA was up 23-16.
Lithuania would battle back, Kuzminskas was taking full advantage of his match-up with Harden by scoring 12 points in the first half but as the second period wore on, the USA had their first double-digit lead at 32-22 thanks to back-to-back buckets from Klay Thompson.
The Lithuanians were starting to miss open shots, and Kenneth Faried hit a nice dunk in traffic, but Valanciunas got under the skin of Cousins as his aggressive boxing out earned a reaction from the Sacramento Kings forward that resulted in a technical foul. Kyrie Irving responded with a nice turnaround jumper and USA had a 43-35 lead at the half.
Then the Americans made their move. They started the third quarter determined. They got out in transition and took the game to Lithuania. In the midst of the 18-2 burst, coach Kazlauskas did not call a timeout, a strange decision seeing as his side badly needed it.
USA led 76-48 after three quarters. In that ten-minute period; the game was over.
Lithuania started the fourth sharply, but it was a foregone conclusion. The U.S. coasted the final ten minutes, en route to Madrid and Sunday’s finale.