BARCELONA: The United States moved a step closer to retaining basketball’s World Cup on Thursday (Friday in Manila) as they beat Lithuania 96-68 in Barcelona to reach the finals.
Kyrie Irving had 18 points while Klay Thompson and James Harden both had 16 points and Stephen Curry added 13 for the Americans, who also beat Lithuania in the semi-finals of the 2010 Worlds en route to their title in Turkey.
The US will be playing in their eighth finals on Sunday and shooting for their fifth title overall.
They will take on the winner of the second semifinals on Friday between Serbia and France – the latter who shocked the hosts Spain in the quarterfinals.
Yugoslavia were the last nation to defend the world title when they were crowned champions in 1998 and 2002 — the second being their fifth and final crown.
Lithuania were led by Mindaugas Kuzminskas with 15 points — three more than he had scored in total coming into the game — while Jonas Valanciunas had 15 points and Adas Juskevicius added 12.
The Baltic team, who committed 21 turnovers, will take on the loser of the second semifinals for third place on Saturday.
“It is always a great honor to play against Lithuania. What a great basketball country! We had so many good games with them,” said United States coach Mike Krzyzewski, while his Lithuanian counterpart Jonas Kazlauskas admitted that class told in the end.
“When you are playing against Team USA, you cannot lose control for one minute. That can change everything,” he acknowledged.
Lithuania hung close in the early going and even led 13-10, but the Americans went on their first spurt with an 8-0 run to go up 18-13. The lead was 21-16 after 10 minutes.
The defending champions pushed the advantage to 10 points at 32-22, but Kuzminskas was one of the few Lithuanians who was effective in the second quarter in keeping the game close and the first half ended with the US up 43-35.
The Americans wasted no time putting away Lithuania in the second half, however, scoring the first 10 points of the third quarter.
In total, they used an 18-4 run for a 61-39 lead. The advantage continued to grow throughout the third quarter and the lead was 76-49 with 10 minutes to play.
The champions were never threatened after that.