Team USA has been a second-half team all World Cup long, letting teams hang around (or in Turkey’s case, lead) for 20 minutes, and at the same time absorbing the best an opponent has to offer. Then in the second half they find another gear and blow the opponent out.
Things started out the same way Thursday against Lithuania. James Harden and Stephen Curry struggled on defense and struggled to find their shot but did find foul trouble, all of which helped make it a seven point USA lead at the half .
Then the Americans unleashed their best half of basketball all tournament long.
The USA started off the third quarter with a 10-0 run (Curry and Harden hitting threes, Anthony Davis with a putback off a miss in there too) and from there on owned the third quarter 33-14. Harden had 16 points in the third alone.
The USA coasted from there to a 96-68 victory. The USA has won every game in this tournament by at least 21.
The victory puts the USA in the gold medal game Sunday in Madrid against the winner of Friday’s France vs. Serbia contest. A game where the USA will be a heavy favorite (now that France eliminated host Spain).
The first half of Thursday’s game was physical, chippy and both teams were struggling to make shots. Which is just how Lithuania wanted it. The Americans had multiple guys in foul trouble, and going against a big front line of Lithuania the USA went away from Davis and Kenneth Faried inside and instead relied heavily on guard play. Which normally works but Team USA shot 33 percent overall in first half, and 4-of-16 from three. Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving were a combined 1-of-7 from beyond the arc before the break.
Yet the Americans led 43-35 at the half because of their team defense, which held Lithuania to 31 percent shooting (Lithuania bricked some looks in there, too). Well, that and Klay Thompson’s 14 points on 11 shots in the first 20 minutes. As they have done all tournament long, in the first half the Americans absorbed the best their opponent could offer, all while trying to establish their up-tempo style.
Then in the second half the USA released the Kraken.
The tempo the USA established earlier picked up steam thanks to their defensive pressure, which carried over to the other end as transition baskets opened up and the threes started falling. With that the USA big men started to run the floor which led to Davis and Faried getting buckets (and a couple impressive dunks). It was a whirlwind and there was nothing Lithuania could do to stop it.
The Americans played their best half of basketball in this game, when it mattered most. By the time the third quarter was over the USA was up by 26 and from there they just let Kyrie Irving take charge of the offense as he finished with a team-high 18 points. Harden and Thompson each finished with 16, Curry added 13. (Derrick Rose struggled with his shot again and was 1-of-8.)
The only time that Lithuania seemed to contest the Americans was after the game when the two sides went to shake hands and the two sides started a little pushing match. Mike Krzyzewski jumped in the middle and made himself the peacemaker.
Well, that and when an elbow caught Rudy Gay in the mouth and sent him to the locker room late in the third quarter.
Lithuania was led by the Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas, who had 15 points (11 of them from the free throw line) and 7 boards. He helped keep the USA big men in foul trouble, but he couldn’t really slow down the scoring. Lithuania is now on to Madrid for the bronze medal game, taking on the loser of the Serbia/France contest.
For the Americans, they are where they expected to be now, the gold medal game. Most importantly, they are playing their best ball at the right time — one more game like this one and they will take home the gold from Spain.