FIBA World Cup

‘Punched us in the mouth’: Olympic berth hardly eases first USA loss

Jasmine W. Payo

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‘Punched us in the mouth’: Olympic berth hardly eases first USA loss

SHOCKER. Lithuanian guard Vaidas Kariniauskas taunts USA star Austin Reaves during their FIBA World Cup duel.


‘I’m worried about this. We want to win the World Cup. That’s our focus,’ says coach Steve Kerr as mighty USA reels from a shock first loss against Lithuania in the FIBA World Cup

MANILA, Philippines – There was nothing really much at stake in the game, yet the all-NBA USA squad just “hate losing.”

The Americans, proving to be vulnerable in their tight win over Montenegro just days earlier, folded for the first time in the FIBA World Cup as a hot-shooting Lithuanian side dominated them all the way for a 110-104 shocker on Sunday night, September 3, at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Both squads already secured quarterfinal berths heading into the match, with USA even securing a spot in the 2024 Paris Olympics as one of the top two teams in the Americas. 

But all that hardly soothed the Americans, who absorbed their first loss in five games.

“We were on our heels that whole first half. They were carving us up. and we definitely had some miscommunications,” said USA coach Steve Kerr as his crew trailed by a whopping 21 points multiple times.

Seven Lithuanians finished in double-digits, led by Vaidas Kariniauskas, who posted 15 points, highlighted by a couple of the team’s 14 three-pointers. 

“We didn’t play particularly well against Montenegro,” noted Kerr as USA also played catch-up against the Montenegrins before pulling off an 85-73 decision last Friday.

“We wanted to come out to play better but they just punched us in the mouth, right away. They made every shot, they executed,” said Kerr of the Lithuanians, who incredibly shot a perfect 6-of-6 from three-point range right in the first quarter. 

“And so I don’t think it was the case of us not being ready. I think it was the case of them playing a perfect first quarter, and us understanding how hard we’re gonna have to play to accomplish our goal.”

Kerr admitted that even if USA booked their Olympic ticket for the 2024 Paris Games after the second-round World Cup action, it wasn’t exactly the team’s goal.

“It doesn’t ease the pain of the loss that we had tonight for us, but for USA Basketball, it’s a good thing, you know, not having to go through any qualifying or anything further, you don’t have to worry about anything else,” he said.

“But to be honest, I’m not worried about the Olympics. I’m worried about this. We want to win the World Cup. That’s our focus.”

Kerr, though, credited his young ward’s comeback efforts as Anthony Edwards erupted for 35 points after a second-half charge that saw the Americans slice the Lithuanians’ lead to just four points a couple of times.

“These guys have to feel it. They have to feel how good these teams are. Lithuania is a brilliant basketball team. I mean they move, they shoot, they cut hard, they’re really well-coached,” said Kerr.

“It was good for us. I hate losing, I probably won’t sleep much tonight. But for us to get better, we needed to feel this, we needed to respond the way we did. And next game we have to start the way we did in the second half. We can’t ease in into the game at all. So I’m hoping that this is a lesson and we get better from this.”

USA takes on Italy next in a knockout quarterfinal match at 8:40 pm on Tuesday, September 5, at the Mall of Asia Arena. 

“Luckily we get to play again, so that’s all I’m thinking about – it’s the next game,” said Edwards, the 22-year-old former top NBA draft pick. “We’re going to watch film and learn from it. On to the next one.” – 

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Jasmine W. Payo

Jasmine joined Rappler as its sports editor in 2018 after over a decade of working as a sportswriter for a national broadsheet.