Lithuania hands Team USA first loss of 2023 FIBA World Cup


MANILA, Philippines — USA Basketball occasionally loses games now. It happened for the first time under Steve Kerr on Sunday.

Lithuania beat the Americans, 110-104, behind a shocking first-half display of size and 3-point prowess at the FIBA World Cup.

Both teams had already qualified for the quarterfinals, which start Tuesday, and with losses on Sunday by the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Brazil, the U.S. had also punched its ticket to the 2024 Olympics in Paris long before Sunday’s game was over.

So in the grand scheme, this was little more than just a scratch on the hood for the Americans. But they’d better make sure the motor is running smoothly by their quarterfinal matchup with Italy. From now on, a loss is a knockout blow.

There was another silver lining for Team USA on Sunday in that it recovered from a first half in which it appeared this would be a game of infamy. If the most lopsided loss in program history, or at least since the Americans started using NBA players in 1992, was a 19-point loss to Puerto Rico at the 2004 Olympics, well, the Lithuanians led this one by 21 points in the second quarter.

The USA returned to respectability with a 13-0 run in the third quarter, but two backbreaking buckets by Mindaugas Kuzminskas twice stunted the Americans’ rhythm.

The first came at the buzzer to end the third quarter, after a brilliant defensive possession for the Americans, when he put back an errant shot for a six-point lead. And then, with less than four minutes left and the shot clock expiring, he buried a desperation 3 with a hand in his face to put the Lithuanians ahead 94-85.

Two Jalen Brunson free throws with 16.2 seconds left cut the Americans’ deficit to four, and they stole the ball on the inbounds pass but couldn’t convert a 3 in the corner.

Jonas Valanciunas, the lone current NBA player for Lithuania, finished with 12 points and seven rebounds. The Lithuanians were led by Vaidas Kariniauskas with 15 points and Kuzminskas added 14.

USA received 35 points from Anthony Edwards and 14 from Mikal Bridges and Brunson. Brandon Ingram added 10 points.

The Lithuanians, as expected, smashed the Americans on the boards (43-27), but it was a shock-and-awe campaign of 3s in the first 20 minutes that was too much for the U.S. to overcome. They made nine consecutive 3s to open the game, including six in the first quarter, and finished the game 14-of-25 from deep.

The Americans converted just 11-of-29 3s.

This is the third time Lithuania has defeated the U.S. since the influx of American NBA players, at the 1998 World Championships (now the World Cup) and the 2004 Olympics. The U.S. had won its first nine games this summer under Kerr, including four at the World Cup.

This story will be updated. 

(Photo: Yong Teck Lim / Getty Images)

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