USA Men’s World Cup Team Battles Back Against Lithuania
• Box Score (PDF)
The 2010 USA Men’s World Cup Team overcame icy cold shooting in the first half, but never gave up and rebounded in the second half to earn a tough 77-61 victory over Lithuania on Saturday night inside the Magic Box in Madrid, Spain. Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder) led all scorers on the night with 15 points, while Rudy Gay (Memphis Grizzlies) and Player of the Game Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder) checked in for 14 and 12 points, respectively.
The U.S. will face defending world champion Spain tomorrow night at 9:00 p.m. local (3:00 p.m. EDT live on NBATV with a rebroadcast on ESPN2 at 11:00 p.m. EDT), before heading to Athens for its final exhibition game against Greece on Aug. 25 at 7:00 p.m. local (12:00 p.m. EDT live on ESPN).
“For us it was an outstanding test because most of our guys have not played internationally on foreign soil and to get adjusted to the game, they’re going to need to play at a higher level, it was just a good experience for us,” said USA and Duke University head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “Lithuania with its rich basketball tradition, they play with great pride. We had a first quarter where we were 3-for-21 and hopefully we’ll not have anything like that again. But I thought our guys fought and played really well in the second half so it’s part of the adjustment, it’s our second game, our first overseas, so we have a lot to learn before Turkey.”
Three minutes into the third quarter Durant hit a turnaround jumper to give the American men their first lead of the game, 36-34. From there the lead swapped hands seven times and with 2:44 to go in the third, Lithuania was back in the lead by a point, 49-48.
Danny Granger (Indiana Pacers) drove to the hoop to give the U.S. the lead for good, 50-49, at 2:29, but it was a play involving a fast-breaking Gay 20 seconds later that really turned the tide. After Rajon Rondo (Boston Celtics) disrupted a shot by Lithuania, the U.S. got the ball and Gay was streaking down the court when he was intentionally fouled by Mantas Kalnietis. In the confusion that ensued, Linas Kleiza was called for a technical. Gay sunk both his free throw tries and then Eric Gordon (Los Angeles Clippers) stepped up to take the two for the tech and swished in both of his tries to push the USA advantage to 54-49.
“That helped us a lot,” said Gay. “Those four straight foul shots really got us into position where we can play and be the aggressor.”
Granger’s basket and the four free throws were the start of a game-deciding 17-0 run that was capped by a Westbrook layup that left the U.S. in control 65-49. The USA held Lithuania to a single free throw over a span of 7:25 as the USA’s opponents finally knocked down a three with 5:19 to play.
“I think the key for me and the rest of the team is coming out and having a defensive mindset and I think that was a key for me, just coming out and defending,” said Westbrook, who knocked down 4-of-5 from the field and hit both of his 3-point attempts. “I think if we defend our offense will take care of itself, we’ll be able to get into the lane and kick it out for open shots. I was just able when they kicked it out to knock down some shots, then try and get into the lane and get everybody else some shots as well.”
The Americans went up by as many as 20 points, 75-55, before cruising through the final minutes for the win.
“Our team did not push the ball in the first quarter,” said Krzyzewski. “When we got Derrick (Rose) in and Russell (Westbrook), the tempo of the game picked up for us. We were playing a very slow tempo and if we do that then we’re not going to have a chance to win. We have to play a little bit faster tempo. Then in the second half I thought Rajon did a good job of doing it. So our bench came through for us – Gordon, Westbrook, Rose, Rudy Gay, they all played very well coming off the bench.
“It’s a good thing our defense was pretty good throughout the whole game or else we could have been down big in the first half,” he added.
Shooting a frigid 14.3 percent (3-21 FGs) in the first quarter, the U.S. defense helped keep Lithuania within striking distance, 15-7. Trailing 19-10, the Europeans’ largest lead of the game, with 6:16 to play in the half, the American men got its first three of the night from Andre Igoudala (Philadelphia 76ers) at 6:05. That got the team going as it ended the first half on an 18-10 run and trailed by just a point, 29-28, heading into the locker room. The U.S. upped its shooting percentage overall in the first half to 28.6 percent (10-35 FGs) after hitting 7-of-14 from the field in the second stanza.
“No. No, it couldn’t have gone any worse in the first quarter,” said Chauncey Billups (Denver Nuggets), who went 1-of-4 from the line and 0-of-3 from 3-point in the first half. “After I missed my third free throw in a row, I just started laughing. Like, ‘whoa, are you serious?’ But it was a great test. We had to fight through some things. We dealt with some adversity today. I’m pretty sure the coaches learned more about the team today. There will be some times like that where we just can’t get it going. The key is going to be that we have to not let the other team get it going.
The U.S. ended the game shooting 40.3 percent (27-67 FGs) from the field and 36.8 percent (7-19 3pt FGs) from beyond the arc and outrebounded Lithuania 40-33. The USA’s defense held Lithuania to just under 40 percent (25-63 FGs) from the field and 23.1 percent (3-13 3pt FGs) from 3-point, while forcing 21 turnovers and getting 15 steals.
The 2010 USA World Championship Team assistant coaches are Syracuse University’s Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim, Portland Trail Blazers head coach Nate McMillan and Toronto Raptors head mentor Jay Triano.
The 13 finalists for the 2010 USA World Championship Team are scheduled to play Spain at the Magic Box tomorrow night before traveling to Athens on Aug. 23. The USA will close out its four-game exhibition schedule against Greece in Athens on Aug. 25.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Tyson Chandler (Dallas Mavericks) regarding tomorrow night’s game. “It’s going to be big time, playing on their soil. We know their fans are going to be excited. We know their team is going to be excited playing in front of their home crowd. We couldn’t have scripted it any better for ourselves to go into the World Championship, into the tournament … having to play a tough team like Lithuania then Spain then Greece in Greece. Playing all these teams on their home soil is going to give us a different level of play from them and their energy than we’re going to face.”
All four of the USA’s friendlies are part of the new Global Community Cup, which will include all USA Basketball exhibition games played outside of formal international competitions. Along with the games, the Global Community Cup features a social responsibility element that will highlight USA Basketball’s commitment to giving back to communities in the U.S. and abroad.
The official 12-man USA roster that will compete in the 2010 FIBA World Championship, which will be played Aug. 28-Sept. 12 in Turkey, must be submitted to FIBA at the technical meeting that normally is held the day prior to the start of the competition.