All Anthony Edwards could do was look at his bench in disbelief.
With the shot clock winding down to zero in the third quarter of Team USA’s matchup against Lithuania on Sunday, Edwards was draped all over his man: former Knicks draft pick Mindaugas Kuzminskas.
He even briefly knocked the ball out of Kuzminskas’ hands before the Lithuanian forward recovered and hoisted a Hail Mary just before the buzzer.
It went in. Of course it did. Kuzminskas shot just 32% from three during his 69-game stint with the Knicks but shot two-of-three on Sunday, no shot more debilitating than the one he made over Edwards. He even laughed on his way up the court while Edwards searched for answers from his bench.
There were none.
It was that kind of day for a Lithuanian team that defeated Team USA in the 2004 Olympics, then ran it back for a 110-104 finish to hand Team USA its first World Cup loss of the summer. They hit their first nine threes of the game — many comical attempts that fell; others a byproduct of poor close-out defense — and converted on 14-of-25 attempts from deep.
One more loss for Team USA and the country — amid all the world champion controversy — won’t earn a medal finish this summer. Ironically, losing to Lithuania gives Team USA a more favorable matchup against Italy in the quarterfinal on Tuesday, while Lithuania advances to face a much more formidable Serbian national team.
The three-pointers, however, will ebb and flow. Team USA’s biggest concern remains a glaring lack of size against high I.Q. international competition that has exploited this weakness since the Showcase games.
Lithuania outrebounded Team USA, 43-27. They grabbed 18 offensive rebounds to Team USA’s two and converted 17 second-chance points. They got 61 points off the bench and led for nearly 38 of a possible 40 minutes. They exploited cross matches all game and made Team USA’s darling, Austin Reaves, virtually unplayable putting him in pick-and-roll action and forcing him to guard bigger players down low.
Lithuania was Team USA’s worst nightmare. But Grant Hill should have seen this coming.
Hill, a decorated basketball Hall of Famer, is Team USA’s managing director. He constructed the roster currently competing for a shot at gold. And while Team USA’s A- and B-Team typically forego the World Cup and opt only to play in the Olympics, there’s no question Team USA’s biggest oversight in constructing its roster is the lack of big bodies to put on the floor.
Reigning Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr. has been sensational in spurts — but with only five fouls before disqualification in international play, he hasn’t been able to consistently stay on the floor.
Reigning Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero is 6-10 and 250 pounds, but he’s inexperienced and has been prone to missing foul shots under pressure.
Team USA was outscored by 10 in Walker Kessler’s six minutes as backup big man. He was no match for Jonas Valanciunas’ brute strength, with the Pelicans’ big man finishing with 12 points that felt more like 50 given the bruised bodies and egos.
Team USA faces Italy, led by Utah Jazz role player Simone Fontecchio, on Tuesday. Italy is 4-1 in World Cup play and is coming off of a 16-point victory over Puerto Rico on Sunday. Fontecchio is averaging 18.4 points on mostly two-pointers and drives to the rim. Italy isn’t as strong of a rebounding team as Lithuania, which works in favor of an undersized USA team.
If Team USA loses to Italy, there will be no medal finish. If they win, they will advance to the semifinal and play either Germany, Latvia or Spain on Friday.