The United States Senior Men’s Basketball Team got its feelings hurt on Sunday. In the final game of the 2023 FIBA World Cup Group Stage, they suffered their first international defeat of 2023 with a 110-104 loss to Lithuania.
USA’s roster is strong, even with many of the country’s best players electing not to participate. The modern NBA game is reliant on length and shooting, and USA has an abundance of both. What the roster is lacking is beef. Lithuania exploited that mismatch all game. USA only led twice in the game, going up 2-0 and 4-2 in the first quarter.
A 56 percent team 3-point percentage is always a plus, but Lithuania only totaled three more makes from behind the arc than USA even though it shot a paltry 37.8 percent by comparison. Where USA was dominated all game long was on the boards. Lithuania outrebounded USA 43-25.
Jaren Jackson Jr. is the best big on USA. The 2022-23 NBA Defensive Player of the Year brings a wealth of strengths to the squad. However, none of those strengths include the beef necessary to hold off the likes of 7-footers Jonas Valančiūnas and Donatas Motiejūnas, or even small forward Tadas Sedekerskis, who was the game’s leading rebounder with 11. Jackson resorted back to his old fouling habits, and was only on the court for 15 minutes.
Lithuania hauled in 18 offensive rebounds for the game, doubling USA’s nine. For all of the long arms on the USA roster, they mostly belong to perimeter players. Jackson is a great defender, but his best offense is from the perimeter. Walker Kessler is the only true center on the team, but when he is on the floor it hurts USA’s spacing. Paolo Banchero is built like a 1990's power forward, but he does not rebound like one. Through five World Cup games, Banchero has a total of 17 rebounds.
While USA spent much of the game — especially the first half — getting bullied, the team did fight back. USA was down 54-37 at intermission and took less than half of the third quarter to cut the deficit down to two possessions. During that run Lithuania was held to only four points.
USA has plenty of explosive scorers and knockdown shooters. A lead against the Americans will never be safe, especially when they turn up the defensive intensity. None of that matters though when they cannot secure a rebound to end a possession.
The coaching on USA is second to none. The Miami Heat’s video coordinator turned two-time NBA Champion head coach, Erik Spoelstra, was probably pouring through tape as soon as he got into the locker room after the game. He, USA head coach Steve Kerr, Tyronn Lue, and Mark Few will find mismatches against Lithuania that the players will be able to exploit should the two teams meet again in the Gold Medal Game.
As bad as USA was pounded on the glass, there were several chances to win the game. It just wasn’t able to make a timely shot to get the score to a one possession game. Lithuania would then go on to stretch the lead out again, forcing another USA run to close the gap.
Lithuania is far from unbeatable, but if USA is not able to reduce the rebounding disparity, a big day from the 3-point line will be necessary for victory.