In an unexpected turn of events, Lithuania managed to defeat the USA during the group stage of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023. This marked the first time since 2002 that the USA experienced a group-stage loss. So, how did they achieve this remarkable feat? Let’s delve into three crucial takeaways:
#1 Exploit the Best Defender
Jaren Jackson Jr., renowned as the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year, arrived at the World Cup with high expectations to safeguard the USA’s rim. However, Lithuania’s coach, Kazys Maksvytis, devised a strategy to counter him effectively. Lithuania consistently fed Jonas Valanciunas in the low post or put Jackson in challenging ball screen situations, capitalizing on his defensive prowess. This plan paid off brilliantly as Lithuania made nine consecutive three-pointers, and Jackson was limited to just 15 minutes on the court due to foul trouble. Coach Steve Kerr acknowledged the impact, stating, “Jaren’s got to be better with that. And he knows that we need him on the floor.” When Jackson was off the floor, the USA’s defense suffered, highlighting the significance of their best defender.
#2 Embrace Physicality
The physicality of Lithuania’s frontcourt proved to be a significant challenge for the USA. Tadas Sedekerskis and Ignas Brazdeikis, with their imposing presence and aggression, contributed to Lithuania’s success. This physical approach disrupted the USA, particularly when they employed small-ball lineups against bigger opponents. Coach Maksvytis emphasized the importance of their physical advantage, stating, “We don’t have too many advantages when we are playing against the USA team. But we were brave.” Steve Kerr admitted that Lithuania’s physicality caught them off guard, stating, “They punched us in the mouth.” Lithuania’s ability to maintain this physical intensity for the entire game was a testament to their strategic player rotation.
#3 Play Fearlessly
Facing the USA can be intimidating due to their extraordinary talent. However, Lithuania displayed fearlessness throughout the game. They remained aggressive and unyielding, even when confronted with big plays and blocks from the USA. Players like Mikal Bridges and Vaidas Kariniauskas exemplified this fearless attitude. After a blocked shot, Jokubaitis didn’t hesitate to attack the paint and score. Kariniauskas, a seasoned journeyman, brought a level of confidence and fearlessness to the game, stating, “Nothing personal, just love for the game.” His mental toughness and composure were crucial in Lithuania’s victory. Coach Maksvytis encouraged his team to enjoy the game and play without overthinking. As Kariniauskas explained, “We just enjoyed basketball, we didn’t think about how to play, we just played.” This mindset contributed to Lithuania’s near-perfect performance.
In summary, Lithuania’s win over the USA in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 was a result of strategic planning, physical dominance, and fearless play. These takeaways provide valuable insights for future matchups against the United States and exemplify Lithuania’s determination to showcase its basketball prowess on the world stage.