Team USA's undefeated run at the FIBA World Cup is officially over Sunday as the Americans suffered an upset loss at the hands of Lithuania. Team USA entered the game as 14.5-point favorites over Lithuania, but got blasted 31-12 in the first quarter and never fully recovered from that decimation. Lithuania was led by New Orleans Pelicans big man Jonas Valanciunas, who scored 12 points in the victory despite foul trouble, in what was overall a balanced attack.
Team USA was led by Anthony Edwards in defeat, and he very nearly led Team USA to a victory by himself. With 35 points and five 3-pointers, he was a one-man machine on offense. Unfortunately, only Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Brandon Ingram joined him in double-figures. More importantly, Lithuania dominated on the glass, 43-26, thanks to its bigger lineups. Throw in some incredible 3-point shooting from Lithuania (14-of-25), and Team USA has now suffered its first loss.
In the grand scheme of things, Team USA's loss doesn't mean all that much. By virtue of Serbia's victory over the Dominican Republic, Team USA automatically earned qualification for the 2024 Olympics in Paris with its top-two finish among teams from the two American continents. Additionally, Team USA's 4-0 mark prior to the Lithuania game was enough to get it to the knockout stage regardless of Sunday's results.
The only difference is that rather than winning Group J, Team USA will take the No. 2 seed. The top two seeds from each group advance, which sets up a game against Italy in the quarterfinals. That matchup has the potential to be somewhat emotional, as Team USA reserve Paolo Banchero nearly played for Italy in this tournament, and they were not happy when he didn't. "Betrayal, especially in basketball, is a strong word. Situations like this happen, and personally, I'm used to it. But he fooled us, we were planning a great commercial strategy for him," Italian federation president Gianni Petrucci told Italian publication La Gazzetta dello Sport.
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Team USA will still be favored to win the tournament in the knockout stage, but dreams of an undefeated tournament run are now over. Couple this defeat with the close nature of Team USA's victory over Montenegro and there's genuine reason for concern here. Team USA is so small that bigger teams will continue to win on the boards against them. Their defense remains inconsistent and the offense still relies too heavily on individual creation. Team USA is still three wins away from gold, but those wins will have to be hard-fought if the Americans expect to walk away from this tournament as victors.