‘Targeted’ Austin Reaves shrugs off defensive criticisms
MANILA, Philippines-Austin Reaves played his worst game so far in Manila for the Fiba World Cup on Sunday night as Team USA fell to Lithuania to wrap up its group phase campaign.
Reaves couldn’t get anything going all game on both ends, with hot-shooting Lithuania drawing him into the post and punishing the Americans with the mismatches that led to his fouling out with over two minutes left.
The Manila crowd-favorite guard took on guys almost twice his size in the paint and gave Lithuania another layer to its thriving offense aside from its exceptional shooting that buried Team USA early with a 21-point deficit.
But despite not responding well to being targeted, Reaves remained confident of his defensive contributions for Team USA.
“A lot of people target me,” Reaves told reporters at the mixed zone after the 110-104 loss that sent them to a showdown against Italy in the knockout quarterfinals, “You know it goes your way sometimes, but it sometimes doesn’t.”
“You could ask anybody on the team and they believe in what I can do defensively. It’s nothing more than that.”
Reaves missed the Americans’ last-ditch rally when they tried to cut down an 11-point lead with 1:43 to go to just five in a frenzied run that still put them in a position to pull off a comeback despite being down the entire game.
United States coach Steve Kerr didn’t read too much into it, saying it was just one of those nights for Reaves who has so far been a consistent figure for his team.
“They posted them up there. They’re a very strong team, and a lot of their guys are trying to back us down, post us up, and just wasn’t Austin’s night,” Kerr said in the post-game press conference. “You got a couple of plays down there that he’d like to have back, I’m sure. But I’m not worried about Austin.”
It wasn’t hard for Reaves and Team USA to pinpoint how they ended up with their first loss of the tournament with their flaws being highlighted by bigger teams like Montenegro and Lithuania.
“We knew what they were capable of doing. We knew statistically that their offensive rebound like 43 percent of their misses. So we knew they were a really good team. They executed what they needed to do and we didn’t. They played a good game.”
With the win-or-go-home phase of the Fiba World Cup–with all games now being played in Manila from September 5 to September 10–the Americans know they can’t afford any more mistakes.
“If it’s not [a wake-up call now], then it never will be. You know, it’s win or go home now,” Reaves said. “It’s a wake-up call for us. So we know we got to do from here on out.”