It was another iffy shooting display from the USA but once again they delivered in the second half to crush Lithuania and advance to the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup Final.
There were two duels Lithuania simply had to win in this one, Jonas Valanciunas vs Anthony Davis and Donatas Motiejunas vs Kenneth Faried. Valanciunas opened the scoring by going right in on Davis but the American centre struck back quickly. Faried quickly drew a foul from Motiejunas but the Houston Rocket hustled well soon after and the battle appeared to be on. Neither Lithuania big would however remain a serious factor on offence and though they slowed their American counterparts, they needed an awful lot more to stop the rest of Mike Krzyzewski’s arsenal.
It wasn’t a dream shooting performance from the Americans early, opening 2 of 9, and Steph Curry once again had foul issues which forced him to take a seat early on. It was tense stuff on the floor, the stop-start tone of the action suiting Lithuania. Davis was stepping up a notch on the glass and bring pheat on defence but this wasn’t the exhausting blitz Slovenia was subjected to a couple of nights ago. Instead the pace was more manageable for Jonas Kazlauskas’ charges but a pair of Klay Thompson threes meant the Americans were still doing some damage on the scoreboard. At the end of the first, the USA held a 21-16 lead.
A technical on Kazlauskas at the end of the frame gave the USA the chance to punch a big hole in Lithuania’s resistance. Curry nailed both frees but Mindaugas Kuzminskaas responded with a dunk right away. Having not featured against Turkey he was a house of fire in the second. Relentlessly attacking the inside and scoring 12 points in 8 minutes, Kuzminskas could only partially attribute his run to being up against James Harden’s questionable D. Faried however was starting to make his power inside count. Ksistof Lavrinovic was feeling the full force of the Denver Nugget. With Curry sitting again after picking up his third foul, it was the other Splash bro who put the hammer down, stretching the USA’s lead to 10 with back-to-back scores.
Lithuania came into this game with ample depth in size but with Paulius Jankunas and Darjus Lavrinovic both getting hurt, they needed all of it. As they had in almost every game so far, the USA made up for their own offensive inefficiency by punishing Lithuania’s errors. The USA had a big advantage in FGA (46-29) and points from turnovers (12-0), which was further aided by Lithuania’s own shooting struggles (31% FGM). A technical on Boogie gave Lithuania the chance to shift the tide back in their favour but Ksistof Lavrinovic air-balled a three late in the frame. Instead the USA looked well placed with a 43-35 lead at the half.
For all of his foul issues, Curry was having an impact in the short time he was having on the floor. A three from the Golden State Warrior coupled with another by Harden, his first bucket of the night, pushed the USA into an 18 point lead within 2 minutes of the resumption and a repeat of the second half against Slovenia looked on the cards. An alley-oop dunk by Davis signalled the rout was in full swing and the question was now only how emphatic this destruction of Kazlauskas’ charges would be.
Kuzminskas, and to a lesser degree Valanciunas, showed there was at least some fight left in Lithuania. Kuzminskas played like it was his side looking to push ahead on the scoreboard, pulling off a clever block and providing some creativity on offence. It barely slowed the bleeding. With 10 minutes to play, the USA led 76-49.
The fourth was far from a track meet. Davis fouled out mid-way through the frame but the Americans continued to rumble along. It finished 96-68 but the USA could easily have added another 10 or 15 to the pounding.
This was a limp way for Lithuania to fall. They were never expected to beat or even live with the USA but being utterly vile night from the floor removed the tension from this game far too early. Kuzminskas was a bright spot and Valanciunas left the reputation he developed at this competition unsullied but that is about as good as it got for Lithuania. They face a bronze medal decider where they will have the benefit of an extra night’s rest but in need of getting their heads back in the game after a trouncing that was at least partially their own doing.
The USA rolls into Madrid knowing that whether it is Serbia or France they will be expected to win and win handsomely. The exit of Spain on Wednesday night only increased the expectation on Coach K’s charges to retain the title. Whenever the USA plays an international tournament, they expect to take the gold and the rest of the world expects it of them too. Until last night, the prospect of defeat for the USA however seemed a touch more plausible than usual. For all their errors, for all their rust, for all their withdrawals, they remain a loaded outfit that has crushed all comers through 8 games in Bilbao and Barcelona.
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