The US is traveling to the Paris Olympics next summer, but Lithuania made sure that was the only good development for the Americans on Sunday night as they went berserk at the FIBA World Cup.
Vaidas Kariniauskas scored 15 points, Mindaugas Kuzminskas added 14 and Lithuania defeated the USA 110-104 in a World Cup second-round match.
The loss — the first for the US in ten games this summer, counting five appearances en route to the World Cup — came on a night when the Americans officially secured a seat at the Paris Games.
And the defeat won’t necessarily hurt them in the World Championship medal fight either. USA will play a quarter-final game on Tuesday when the knockout stages for the last eight teams begin. Win Tuesday, win Thursday and win next Sunday and the Americans are gold medalists.
But it was a shock nonetheless, especially for a US team who were the overwhelming favorites to win the gold medal. Anthony Edwards led the US with 35 points, his high of the summer, while Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges each added 14.
It was another memorable evening for Lithuania (5-0) against USA Basketball. And the nation once known for the tie-dye T-shirts – some of which were worn by fans inside the building on Sunday night – sent a clear message to Americans and everyone else still attending the World Cup.
Lithuania has taken the US to its borders and beyond on more than a few occasions. The Americans defeated Lithuania by nine points in a preliminary round match at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, then came away with a two-point victory in the semifinals – and went undefeated in the Dream Team Olympics era – when Sarunas Jasikevicius’ 3rd -Point attempt after the time expired failed briefly.
Those weren’t the only close calls or worse. Lithuania defeated the USA at the 1998 World Cup (as the World Cup was then called) and in the first rounds of the 2004 Athens Olympics. It also gave the Americans everything they wanted at the London 2012 Olympics, when they lost 99-94 in a group stage match where the US briefly fell behind in the fourth quarter.
In a game that didn’t matter much to medal hopes considering both teams started on Sunday with spots secured for Tuesday’s quarter-finals, there was much to clear up.
Lithuania made their first nine 3-point attempts and built an early 21-point lead, and the US traveled to Paris in the third quarter as Serbia’s win over the Dominican Republic ended for good and secured the Americans an Olympic spot.
And just as Serbia completed their victory, the US went full throttle.
The Americans needed less than half of the third quarter – 4 minutes and 16 seconds – to cut the halftime deficit from 17 points to four and the comeback attempt began. The lead of Lithuania was 71:65 in the last ten minutes, but could not weaken until the end.
The Americans automatically secured a spot for the Paris games as one of the top two players from the Americas region at the Basketball World Cup.
Win or lose on Sunday, you’ve already secured a spot in the World Cup quarter-finals. Brazil, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic tried to catch up with the USA in the quarterfinals – but all lost on Sunday, ending their World Cup standings.
And with only Canada – also playing on Sunday night – from America still in the tournament, it meant there was no scenario where the USA could be overtaken in the final World Cup standings by two teams from their region.
12 nations take part in the Olympic men’s basketball tournament. France qualified as hosts and seven teams – so far it’s Australia, South Sudan, Japan and the USA – will receive automatic bids based on their World Cup placement. The top two teams from America receive Olympic places, as do the top two from Europe and the best team from Africa (South Sudan), Asia (Japan) and Oceania (Australia).
The US surpassed France to win Olympic gold at the Tokyo Games two summers ago.
Reporting by The Associated Press.
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