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MANILA, Philippines – The last laugh belongs to the USA.
Bobby Portis stressed the need to be humble after USA-slayer Lithuania – on a high after shocking the Americans to reach the final phase unbeaten – crashed out of the FIBA World Cup at the hands of Serbia on Tuesday, September 5.
As seen on videos, Lithuanian player Vaidas Kariniauskas wore a USA Basketball cap in the locker room after dealing the Americans their first loss of the World Cup.
But the celebratory mood turned somber for Lithuania, which failed to advance to the final four following a stunning 87-68 beating from Serbia on Wednesday, September 6.
The USA, on the other hand, redeemed itself in a 100-63 thrashing of Italy to book its semifinal ticket.
“Sometimes, you got to be humble in everything you do. I think they kind of got too high, saw them wearing hats, USA hats, and things like that,” said Portis.
“Not mad, but kind of sucks getting on social media and seeing things like that. It can go one or two ways,” Portis added.
“It can either make you mad or it can be a motivation for you to go out there to play with a little more pride, little more passion. I think our guys responded well, going out there and fighting for the name in front of the jersey.”
Doomed by a lethargic start against Lithuania, USA built a commanding 46-24 halftime lead this time against Italy and never looked back on the way to handing the Azzurri their most lopsided loss in World Cup history.
Mikal Bridges showed the way for the Americans with 24 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 steals, Tyrese Haliburton churned out 18 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals, while Austin Reaves chimed in 12 points.
Portis, for his part, added 7 points and 7 rebounds.
“In the NBA, you can walk into a game, pace yourself, and then turn the tempo up. Here, you got to stomp on them from the jump and get it going. I’m proud of the team, how we responded from the loss,” Portis said.
Given a dose of reality that other teams cannot be taken lightly, Portis welcomed the challenge of living up to the standard set for the USA, which seeks to reclaim lost glory after a seventh-place finish last World Cup.
“Every time we get on social media, every time we turn the TV on, we just see the backlash from one loss. Obviously, it is a motivation,” said Portis.
“The standard is winning. Losing is not acceptable for our basketball country.”
Enjoying a two-day break, the USA returns to action to face the winner between Germany and Latvia in the final four on Friday, September 8, at the Mall of Asia Arena. – Rappler.com