In the electrifying second-round finale of the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Manila, Team USA faced an unexpected challenge. A New York Knicks point guard was at the center of the action, but it wasn’t in the familiar blue and orange jersey.
Rokas Jokubaitis, one of the Knicks’ rising stars from the 2021 draft, and his Lithuanian squad put on a dazzling performance, securing a 110-104 victory against a potential future teammate, Jalen Brunson, along with Josh Hart and Team USA.
Among the Knicks in action, Brunson contributed 14 points, seven assists, and four rebounds, while Hart grabbed two boards in just over 13 minutes of play. Jokubaitis shined for Lithuania with nine points and six assists, leading his team to victory alongside four teammates who scored in double figures.
Both Lithuania and Team USA (4-1) had already secured their spots in the knockout tournament stage and the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. However, Lithuania (5-0) dominated the second round’s Group J, thanks in large part to a dominant first quarter that saw them take a commanding 31-12 lead. They also won the rebounding battle decisively, outrebounding the Americans 43-27, primarily due to their 18 second-chance opportunities compared to Team USA’s nine.
Despite being behind for most of the game, Team USA was buoyed by Anthony Edwards’ scoring efforts, as he contributed 35 points. However, it was Brunson’s facilitation that played a significant role in the comeback attempt. He scored six points and assisted on three other baskets in the third quarter, helping narrow the Lithuanian lead to as little as four points.
Although Brunson and the starters made progress, the American reserves struggled to contain Lithuania in the final quarter. Lithuania matched Team USA’s 39 points in the final period, largely fueled by four three-pointers that seemed to come at critical moments. Lithuania shot an impressive 56 percent from beyond the arc (14-of-25) and dominated the bench scoring battle with a 61-38 advantage.
By the end, Brunson’s seven assists tied him for the team lead with Tyrese Haliburton, and he boasted a plus/minus rating of plus-4, second only to Edwards. Vaidas Kariniauskas led Lithuania with 15 points, and Tadas Sedekerskis played a pivotal role in the rebounding battle with 11 boards. This victory marked Lithuania’s first win over the US in World Cup play since 1998.
Knockout round action kicks off in Manila on Tuesday, with Team USA set to face Italy in a highly anticipated matchup. Italy secured their place in the knockout stage after a tiebreaker win over Serbia, and they are eyeing their best World Cup finish since 1998 in Greece.