USA Marches Into Gold Medal Game After 96-68 Win Over Lithuania
• VIDEO: Game Recap
• VIDEO: Coach K Presser
For a second consecutive game, a second-half run sealed a must-win contest for the USA (8-0) as it rallied behind a 33-14 third quarter scoring advantage to secure a 96-68 victory over Lithuania (6-2) in the semifinals of the 2014 FIBA World Cup on Thursday night at Palau Sant Jordi arena in Barcelona, Spain. The win earned the USA the right to play in the gold medal game on Sept. 14 in Madrid, where it will meet the winner of tomorrow’s semifinal between Serbia (4-3) and France (5-2). Lithuania will play the loser of that game for bronze.
“It’s always an honor to play against Lithuania, one of great basketball countries. We’ve had so many good games with them,” said USA coach Mike Krzyzewski (Duke University).
“I thought Klay’s (Thompson) play in the first half was the biggest reason we were ahead at halftime. Then in the second half we were able to start fresh. We made a huge adjustment on the defense that helped a lot, and we didn’t give up threes; we stopped putting them on the line as much and we turned them over. The outrebounding them and turning them over I thought was the difference.
“Kyrie (Irving) was special in this game, in that third quarter he kind of got us moving and everybody started moving with him. We feel very fortunate to be going and playing on Sunday. I’m proud of my team and their effort, and hopefully we get rested and whoever we play, I hope we give them a heck of a game,” added Krzyzewski.
Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers) led the USA with 18 points and four assists; while James Harden (Houston Rockets) scored all 16 of his points in the third quarter; Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors) added 16 points; and Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors) finished with 13 points.
The USA’s eight-point, 43-35, halftime lead quickly ballooned to 18 points, 53-35, in the third quarter after Harden nailed a 3-pointer at 8:07 to cap a 10-0 run by the U.S. Following two free throws from Lithuania, the USA ripped off eight more unanswered points to take a 61-37 lead and secure control of the game.
“I thought it was a tough first half for us; we fouled too much,” Thompson said. “We had a nice lead going into halftime, it’s kind of been the story of this tournament, how we wear on teams, not letting a lead affect us and just playing hard for 40 minutes. That was huge for us in the third quarter, you’ve got to give credit to our starters for coming out hot and really setting the tone for the rest of the game.”
The USA, which again struggled to find the bottom of the net to start the game, trailed 13-10 midway through the first quarter, however, 3-pointers from Irving and Thompson helped warm the USA up, and the Americans closed the period by outscoring Lithuania 11-3 to lead 21-16 at the first break. The USA made just 6-of-21 from the field in the first quarter (.286). Also slowing the USA were three starters with two fouls each in the first quarter, including Curry, Faried and Harden, and the USA went over the five-foul limit with 6:56 remaining in the first quarter.
DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings) and Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans), both not only grabbed six rebounds in the game, but fouled out. Overall, the USA was whistled for 27 personal fouls that helped Lithuania to shoot 32-of-42 from the line, while the USA as just 11-of-20 itself from the charity stripe.
“We fouled like crazy; I can’t think of a game that I’ve coached for the U.S. where it’s 42 to 20 on free throws,” Krzyzewski said. “We’re usually the aggressor, and in that first half we had three of our starters with two fouls after three minutes. So there was a lot of adversity in this game.”
The second quarter started with two made free throws from Curry after the Lithuanian coach was whistled for a technical foul at the close of the first quarter. The USA worked its way to a 10-point lead at 7:27, but Lithuanian quickly cut that deficit to six points, 32-26 at 6:29. The teams traded scores over the next six minutes, and a basket from Irving with 41.6 seconds left made it 43-35 in the USA’s favor at the midway point.
While 11 offensive boards were helping to combat the USA’s 36.0 percent shooting from the field, Lithuania was winning the rebounding battle 28-26 at halftime. Lithuania shot even worse from the field, sinking a frigid 35.7 percent, of its field goal attempts, but Mindaugas Kuzminskas tallied all 12 of his first-half points in the second period to help keep his team within range of the USA.
Out of the halftime locker room, the USA quickly established control of the game. Nine of the USA’s third-quarter points came off of turnovers, and 15 were off of fast-break opportunities. After the USA’s 10-0 and 8-0 runs, the score was 70-43 in the third quarter at 2:33 and 76-49 when the two teams headed into the final 10 minutes.
“Defense,” Davis said of the difference in the second half. “I think we came out and played defense in that second half, shared the ball and got easy looks.”
The USA finished the game with a 50-38 advantage on the glass and with 24 points off of Lithuania’s 21 turnovers, compared to five points for Lithuania off the USA’s 16 turnovers.
Kuzminskas and Jonas Valanciunas finished with 15 points apiece for Lithuania.
Rounding out Krzyzewski’s USA National Team staff as assistant coaches are Syracuse University and Naismith Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim, Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau and New Orleans Pelicans head coach Monty Williams.
Since the first FIBA World Championship was held in 1950, the USA has won 11 medals – four gold medals, three silver medals and four bronze medals – while compiling an all time 122-27 win-loss record. Led By Krzyzewski, the Americans are defending World Champions having claim gold in Istanbul with a 9-0 record.
STAT NOTES: The USA shot 47.5 percent from the field (38-80 FGs) and 37.5 percent from 3-point (9-24 3pt FGs) but just 55.0 percent from the free throw line (11-20 FTs) … The USA also met Lithuania in the 2010 FIBA World Cup semifinals, recording a 89-74 win.