Team USA falls to Lithuania at Fiba World Cup, still qualifies for Paris Olympics
MANILA, Philippines — Team USA is going to the Paris Olympics next summer. Lithuania made sure that was the only good development for the Americans on Sunday night, when it pulled off a Fiba World Cup stunner.
Vaidas Kariniauskas scored 15 points, Mindaugas Kuzminskas added 14 and Lithuania beat the U.S. 110-104 in a second-round game at the World Cup.
The loss — the first for the U.S. in 10 games this summer, counting five exhibitions on the way to the World Cup — came on a night when the Americans officially clinched a berth in the Paris Games.
And the loss won’t necessarily hurt them in the World Cup medal chase, either. The U.S. will play a quarterfinal game on Tuesday, when the knockout stage for the final eight teams begins. Win Tuesday, win Thursday and win next Sunday, and the Americans are gold medalists.
“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.”
But it was a still a shocker, especially for a U.S. team that was the overwhelming favorite to win the gold. Anthony Edwards led the U.S. with 35 points, his high of the summer, while Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges each added 14.
For Lithuania (5-0), it became another night to remember against USA Basketball. And the nation once famous for the tie-dyed T-shirts — some of them were worn by fans in the building Sunday night — sent a clear message to the Americans and anyone else still in the World Cup.
“In (the) locker room, I said to our guys to celebrate shortly and save all the energy and emotions also for the upcoming game,” Lithuania coach Kazys Maksvytis said. “It’s very hard. We got one of the biggest wins in our career, but we don’t have time to celebrate this. Serbia’s waiting and they’re not waiting for us with flowers and the red carpet.”
Lithuania has pushed the U.S. to the limit, and beyond, more than a few times. Lithuania lost to the Americans by nine in a preliminary game at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, then escaped with a two-point win in the semifinals — and remained unbeaten in the Dream Team Olympic era — when Sarunas Jasikevicius’ 3-point try as time expired fell short.
Those weren’t the only close calls or worse. Lithuania beat the U.S. at the 1998 world championships (what the World Cup was called then) and in the early rounds of the 2004 Athens Olympics. It also gave the Americans all they wanted in the 2012 London Olympics, falling 99-94 in a preliminary round matchup where the U.S. briefly trailed in the fourth quarter.
In a game that didn’t matter much as far as medal hopes, considering both teams came into Sunday with spots secured for Tuesday’s quarterfinals, there was a lot to unpack.
Lithuania made its first nine 3-point attempts and built an early 21-point lead, and the U.S. became Paris-bound in the third quarter when Serbia’s win over the Dominican Republic went final in an outcome that clinched an Olympic berth for the Americans.
And right around the time Serbia closed out its win, the U.S. kicked into high gear.
It took the Americans less than half of the third quarter — 4 minutes and 16 seconds — to cut what was a 17-point halftime deficit down to four, and the comeback attempt was on. Lithuania’s lead was 71-65 going into the final 10 minutes and it would not trail the rest of the way.
The Americans secured an automatic berth into the Paris Games as one of the two highest finishers from the Americas Region at the Fiba World Cup.
Win or lose Sunday, they already were assured of a spot in the World Cup quarterfinals. Brazil, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic were trying to join the U.S. in the quarters — but all lost on Sunday to end their stay at the World Cup.
And with only Canada — which also was playing Sunday night — still in the tournament from the Americas, that meant there was no scenario in which the U.S. could be passed by two teams from its region in the final World Cup standings.
There will be 12 nations in the Olympic men’s basketball tournament. France qualified as the host and seven teams — so far, it’s Australia, South Sudan, Japan and the U.S. — earn automatic bids based on their World Cup placing. The top two teams from the Americas get Olympic spots, as do the top two from Europe and the top team from Africa (South Sudan), Asia (Japan) and Oceania (Australia).
The U.S. topped France to win Olympic gold at the Tokyo Games two summers ago.
— FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 🏆 (@FIBAWC) September 3, 2023
Lithuania: Kariniauskas had a viral moment when he wagged his tongue at U.S. guard Austin Reaves after a first-half score. Turns out, it was planned. Kariniauskas played this past season with Reaves’ brother Spencer — and Austin’s brother encouraged his teammate to talk trash. “That’s it. Nothing special,” Kariniauskas said. … Lithuania has won its last six World Cup games, the second-longest active streak behind Germany’s eight in a row.
USA: Edwards was 14 for 26 from the field. … The U.S. is averaging 101.8 points in the tournament and bidding to average at least 100 points per game for the sixth time in its 19 World Cup appearances. … The U.S. fell to 133-30 all-time in World Cup play.
Lithuania: Faces Serbia in a quarterfinal game Tuesday in Manila.
USA: Faces Italy in a quarterfinal game Tuesday in Manila.