Back in August, the USA got together to take on Lithuania in a “friendly” — and the young Americans got punched in the mouth for a half. Don’t believe me, this is what Coach K told John Schuhmann of NBA.com.
“They were playing the international game and we were still playing a U.S. game that night,” USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said Friday. “And they knocked us back. We did enough to win the exhibition, but we’re going to have to play a lot better than that to win on Saturday.”
They have to because Lithuania is playing better, more confident than they did in that meeting. That and this the World Championship semi-finals, one-and-done. Lithuania is 7-0 so far and have knocked off Argentina and Spain in this tournament. Lithuania is capable of shooting lights out for long stretches (59 percent in the first half against Argentina when they took the game by the throat early).
This is a measuring stick game for the USA — they are better, more talented than Lithuania, but if the Americans have not progressed as a team since the last meeting it will not matter.
Here’s what you really need to know about Lithuania — they will fight. Not in the Greece/Serbia sense, in the way every coach in every sport in every country wants their team to fight and scrap. They are the definition of gutty and physical. They were down double digits to Spain, France, China and Canada and came back to win every game. The USA cannot take their foot off the gas in this one.
Lithuania spreads the floor on offense and will run a lot of pick-and-rolls, a classic European offense in that there always movement off the ball, plenty of cutting to the basket. Pretty much everyone on the Lithuanian roster will drive the lane, save Simas Jasaitis who just stands out there and knocks down threes. They like to run, although how much they push the pace against a more athletic USA team remains to be seen.
We already told you all about Linas Kleiza, who is leading the team in scoring at 19 a game. He brings a more complete and more confident game to this game than NBA fans will remember from his days in Denver. The USA will likely counter him with Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala, but Kleiza’s physicality will be a challenge for either of them.
The USA is the better team, the deeper team. But Lithuania is playing about as well as it can right now, and it will fight for this one. They know that in a best of seven they are toast, but one game… anything can happen. Unless the USA comes in focused and on its game, then this is decided.