Historic: Lithuania stun USA
MANILA (Philippines) - A packed Mall of Asia Arena saw a historic battle in which Lithuania opened up a 52-31 lead late in the first half, and held on to a 110-104 win in a dramatic finish in front of 11,349 fans.
Lithuania will now face Serbia in the Quarter-Finals, while the United States take on Italy in the other matchup on this side of the bracket.
Turning point: Coach Steve Kerr and his staff needed to find something to wake their team up at halftime. They found it, turning the level up on the defensive end, holding Lithuania to just two points in five minutes of the third quarter.
What was a 17-point gap at the half soon melted to just four points, as the United States had all the momentum in the third quarter. Mikal Bridges fueled the offense, USA's deficit was down to 71-65 with 10 minutes to play.
However, coach Kazys Maksvytis balanced his team perfectly, and the second unit maintained the lead, setting the stage up for one final push in the fourth quarter with no players playing more than 18 minutes until that point.
With Jonas Valanciunas and Donatas Motiejunas as the anchors inside, and the unlikely hero in backup point guard Vaidas Kariniauskas, Lithuania kept finding their way to the paint, protecting the lead without allowing the USA to come to a one-possession deficit.
They remained calm from the line in a free throw shooting closing two minutes to seal the deal.
TCL Player of the Game: Jonas Valanciunas went to work, and his final stats don't even paint the picture of how influential he was on this game.
The big man was the vocal leader, the physical presence, and rest assured that Jaren Jackson Jr, Bobby Portis Jr and Paolo Banchero all felt his power inside, going against him on either side of the floor.
He finished with 12 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Stats don't lie: Lithuania made their first nine shots from three-point range, which helped them to that 21-point lead in the first half. When they started missing, they were there to clean up the mess with the offensive rebounding, collecting 18 of those, good enough for a 17-2 advantage in second chance points.
Bottom line: They won in 1998, they won in 2004, now they did it again in 2023. Lithuania have connected three wins against the USA, with three different generations, and showed the world that they are here to fight for the top step of the podium.
Tadas Sedekerskis had an 11-point, 11-rebound double-double, Mindaugas Kuzminskas scored 14, Kariniauskas finished with 15 points, Ignas Brazdeikis had 11, Tomas Dimsa also scored 11, while Eimantas Bendzius got to 10. That's six men in double figures, plus two other players with 9 points, a balanced offense needed to stun the USA.
Anthony Edwards scored 35 points for USA, but none of his teammates had more than 14 on the night. It was the first group stage defeat for the USA in World Cup history since 2002.
They said: "We need to save our emotions and our effort for the next game. Just in two days, we're starting the playoffs. Congratulations to my players, but we need to have short memory to prepare for the second game." - Kazys Maksvytis, Lithuania head coach
"It's hard to talk. It was a tough game for the beginning. It's a big win for our country, for the players, the coaches, to play against the best in the world. I'm happy for my country, for my family, for our families and we don't need to stop now. We don't need to celebrate much, we have a do-or-die against Serbia in 48 hours." - Vaidas Kariniauskas, Lithuania
"Great basketball game. Lithuania obviously just came out of the gates on fire, made their first nine threes, took it to us. I love the way our guys fought back, played much better in the second half, competed like crazy, gave it a really good run, but it wasn't enough. It's a great game for us to experience. This is FIBA. There are great teams that have continuity, that understand what they are doing, they execute. Lithuania were brilliant tonight, they deserved to win." - Steve Kerr, USA head coach
"Luckily we get to play again, that's all I'm thinking about." - Anthony Edwards, USA