By Leobert Julian A. de la Peña
Team USA basketball lost, and this is not a drill.
Well, you never know what will happen in sports.
In front of 11,349 fans at the Mall of Asia Arena, Lithuania did the unthinkable after completing the upset against the heavily-favored team USA, 110-104, during their FIBA World Cup clash last September 3, 2023.
Lithuania banked on its perfect start from the three-point range, burying their first nine attempts from downtown that built a massive 21-point advantage in the first half.
Aside from their waxing-hot performance from the rainbow country, the Lithuanians also dominated the rebounding department, pulling down 43 boards compared to the USA’s 27.
It was the worst start team USA had in their ongoing FIBA World Cup campaign as the Lithuanians drew a perfect game plan that allowed them to capitalize on their advantages in the chess match.
Lithuania exposed team USA’s weakness in the post as they bullied their smaller guards with their efficient post-up plays.
The Lithuanians targeted Austin Reaves, Jalen Brunson, and Tyrese Haliburton by running multiple cross-picks to get the mismatch they wanted down the blocks.
However, team USA flipped the switch in the second half and mounted a momentum-boosting rally in the first six minutes of the third quarter, holding Lithuania to just a deuce in that sequence while blitzing to a 15-2 run.
Mikal Bridges and Anthony Edwards led USA’s offensive blitz and pulled them to within four points, but Lithuania countered with a 4-0 scoring run to help maintain their lead despite the Americans’ flurry.
The remaining final quarter became an intense nip-and-tuck affair as USA answered every Lithuanian basket to keep themselves afloat in the second-round duel.
With 3:53 remaining in the game and Lithuania holding to a 91-85 lead, a trifecta demoralized USA that extended their lead back to nine points.
Lithuania only had three seconds left to shoot and Edwards had a piece of the ball which could’ve been a near steal. However, Mindaugas Kuzminskas just hoisted the leather, looked at his looping heave, and heard a swish that caused pandemonium inside the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Americans tried to keep the game interesting but Lithuania’s efficient free-throw shooting in the last two minutes helped them protect their lead and earn the biggest upset of the tournament so far.
Vaidas Kariniauskas led Lithuania with 15 big points backstopped by 14 markers from Kuzminskas and 12 from NBA star Jonas Valanciunas.
On the other hand, team USA got a 35-point masterpiece from Edwards but was not enough to help them claw their way back and avoid the upset.
Despite the loss, the Americans will still advance to the next round of the FIBA World Cup and will challenge Italy while Lithuania’s win will put them at the top of the bracket and will be going up against Serbia.