USA blows open tight Lithuania game to reach World Cup finals in Spain

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by Christopher Johnson in Barcelona —

This is becoming predictable.

Teams stay with the US for one quarter or maybe two. They miss a few shots, make a few turnovers, and suddenly the rout is on. Nobody can keep up with US intensity for 40 minutes.

“When you are playing US team, you cannot lose control for one minute,” said Lithuania coach Jonas Kazlauskas. “One or two minutes can change the game.”

Lithuania, known for great shooting, figured to be different in the World Cup semi-final in Barcelona. They trailed only 21-16 after one quarter, and 43-35 after two. They got Kenneth Faried, Stephen Curry and Derrick Rose in foul trouble early.

But they couldn’t stop Klay Thompson, the one player on the US who most resembles the type of European sharpshooters familiar to Lithuanians. He had 14 points at half-time, and finished with 16, to lead the US to a 96-68 win.

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“It was a tough first half for us,” Thompson said after the game. “We fouled too much. It’s kind of been the story of the tournament, just wearing on teams. We played 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 in the second half.”

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James Harden, shut-out in the first half, had 16 in the second, as the US outscored Lithuania by 19 points in the third quarter.

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Stephen Curry added 13.

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Jonas Valanciunas had 15 for Lithuania, but only two field goals. He was 11 of 13 from the line, as Lithuania made 32 of 42, an astounding number for a team that lost by 28 points.

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He embraced Raptors’ teammate DeMar DeRozan after the game, while others got involved in a brief kerfuffle.

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The LIthuanian fans drowned out US fans throughout the game.

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US coach Mike Krzyzewski praised Thompson for giving the US a lead at half-time. “We fouled like crazy. I can’t think of a game where it’s 42-20 on free throws. We’re usually the aggressor. ”

“I think Klay’s play in the first half was the biggest reason we were ahead at half time. In the second half, we were able to start fresh.”

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USA’s defense continued to win games for them. They held Lithuania to 30 percent shooting on 17 of 56 field goals, and only 2 of 18 threes — a remarkable stat for Lithuania.

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Faried had 9 points and 6 boards.

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DeMarcus Cousins helped the US muscle Valanciunas out of the post and make him work for everything.

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Though Derrick Rose continued to shoot a low percentage, making only 1 of 8 shots, his drives broke down the defense, and he keyed the US defense by harassing ball-handlers and closing out on shooters.

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Kyrie Irving 18 points, four assists and two steals. “Kyrie was special in this game,” Coach K said. “He just got us moving and everybody started moving with him.”

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“We made an adjustment on defense,” Coach K said. He said they forced the ball to come back to the middle.  “That’s where all their guys were. Once we did that, it made it difficult for them. It was a huge adjustment by our guys. It’s something they don’t normally do.”

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(photos by Christopher Johnson Globalite Media, all rights reserved)

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