Team USA takes care of Lithuania... eventually
That was almost very very bad.
Team USA played disastrously bad against Lithuania for a half, trailing by multiple scores before turning the jets on in the second half and riding their athleticism to a 77-61 win Sunday afternoon.
The big problem for Team USA? You can take your pick, but shooting is likely the biggest culprit. The team simply could not make a jumper, shooting worse than 25% at one point before starting to attack the basket. To be clear, though, there were problems all over. The interior defense struggled, a result of the lack of depth thanks to injury on the squad, as well as a long, athletic Lithuania team that was staying aggressive on the offensive glass before they ran out of steam.
Finally, Russell Westbrook got things going from the outside and wound up with the MVP for the game with 12 points and 5 rebounds, while Rudy Gay (14 points and 5 rebounds) and Andre Iguodala used their size and athleticism to capitalize on turnovers, leading to multiple breakaway dunks. Not that that always worked out, considering both Gay and later Eric Gordon missed those same breakaway dunks.
Linas Kleiza predictably lead Lithuania, showing why he’s returning to the NBA this season with a flurry of mid-range jumpers and solid drives. But eventually, USA’s pressure full-court defense and length was just too much for the green team.
The contest does lead to several significant questions going into tomorrow’s exhibition against the arguable favorite in the FIBA tournament, Spain. Spain is going to have better shooters, better bigs, better defenders, and better ball athletes. If USA comes out in a shooting slump like they did today, often lost on rotations inside and struggling to contain the boards, that game likely won’t right itself like today did.
Durant scored 15 points for another strong showing on the stat sheet, but his shot was off the whole day long, and questions continue about his ability to carry the load for USA.
All in all, though, Team USA was up 15+ late, and came through when they needed to. But in a year with so many questions, we’ve yet to get answers as the exhibition season has continued. We’ll let you know how tomorrow works out.