The word “learning experience” is not something coaches would want to casually toss out in this side of the globe, where basketball fans have been known to deride the term after it had been trotted out a lot during the disappointing campaign by Gilas Pilipinas in the Fiba World Cup.
But it was what coach Steve Kerr kept harping on Sunday night when Team USA was handed a humbling defeat that could go either of two ways for the Americans, who are expected to be the de facto home team for the rest of the tournament now that the Philippines has played its last game.
The 110-104 defeat against the tough European side before a packed crowd at Mall of Asia Arena could either be detrimental or, in the perspective of the many-time NBA champion mentor, beneficial going into the quarterfinal match against Italy.
“I’m hoping that this is a lesson and we get better from this,” Kerr said after disappointing fans of the NBA flavored squad with its first loss since being formed in July.
Concerns about the makeup of the United States roster, especially with its frontline, were validated in the final game of the second round as Lithuania maximized its interior presence behind NBA player Jonas Valanciunas, leaving his ex-Memphis Grizzlies teammate Jaren Jackson Jr. in foul trouble.
But the other major factor in the defeat was how Team USA couldn’t stop Lithuania’s hot shooting from beyond the arc. Good ball movement led to open opportunities and the Lithuanians dropped their first nine triples.
Attempts of a US comeback led by Anthony Edwards fell short, and now the squad finds itself caught in a sense of urgency.
“We have no other choice. If we lose, we go home,” said Team USA guard Jalen Brunson.
Kerr described Lithuania as having a “perfect first quarter” and will be glad to have a “great tape to watch” as focus is now on getting the Americans ready to hurdle the knockout stage.
Slovenia, Latvia here
Tuesday’s game is an 8:45 p.m. start, with Team USA hoping to advance against either Germany, the unbeaten team from Okinawa, Japan, and the surprise Manila visitor Latvia, which came off an incredible performance in Jakarta, Indonesia.
“I liked what happened,” Kerr said of the loss. “Because this happens so quickly, bring together the team and practice for just a few weeks and you play for a gold medal. Happens quickly.
“And it’s different. Fiba’s different from the NBA. And that’s a big focus for us and we talk about it every day,” he added. “But these guys have to feel it, these guys have to feel how good these teams are. Lithuania’s a brilliant basketball team. They move, they shoot, they cut hard, they’re well-coached so it (the loss) was good for us.”
But learning from it will mean that Team USA must do away with the things that contributed heavily to the defeat that now leaves the American side hoping to regain its status as basketball’s world champion in a dangerous position.
“We have to start the way we did in the second half [against Lithuania],” said Kerr. “We can’t ease into the game at all.”
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