Boasting an array of All-Star level NBA talent, it was always going to take something special to defeat Team USA at the FIBA World Cup. That’s what happened for Lithuania on Sunday in what U.S and Golden State Warriors’ head coach Steve Kerr aptly described as a “perfect first-quarter”.
As coach of the Warriors for the last nine seasons, Kerr has often been on the right side of a shooting masterclass. But on this occasion he was the one with little answers for an early onslaught from the opposition.
After an early shooting clinic akin to the prime Golden State Warriors, Lithuania held off Team USA for a shocking 110-104 victory on Sunday.
Lithuania went 6-for-6 from beyond the arc in an opening period where they built a remarkable 19-point lead. They would make their first three triples of the second-quarter too, with their 9-for-9 start a big punch in the mouth according to Kerr.
To Kerr’s credit his team responded in the third-quarter, outscoring the opposition 28-17 to draw within six with ten minutes to play. But just as it appeared inevitable that the U.S would overrun their less-fancied opponents, the Lithuanians steadied to complete the stunning win.
"“They made every shot. They executed it. I don’t think it was a case of us not being ready. But them playing perfect first quarter and us understanding how hard we’ll have to play to accomplish our goal”, Kerr said in the aftermath."
There was plenty of criticism for the U.S on social media, even for young star Anthony Edwards who led the team with 35 points. In a World Cup that had previously seen an even spread of the scoring load for Team USA, Edwards took 26 field-goal attempts against Lithuania — 16 more than anyone else.
It was the Lithuanians who personified a team display, with seven players scoring in double-digits but none scoring more than Vaidas Kariniauskas’ 15 points. New Orleans Pelicans’ big man Jonas Valanciunas had 12 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in 19 minutes.
It’s not a devastating loss for the Americans who still qualify for the quarter-finals. It just means that having finished second to the Lithuanians in their second-round group, they’ll now have to face Italy on Tuesday after they topped Group I on point-differential over Serbia.