Rokas Jokubaitis got the better of Jalen Brunson in the battle of perhaps the future and the present New York Knicks point guard.
Jokubaitis, a draft-and-stashed guard for the Knicks, helped Lithuania score a massive 110-104 upset of Team USA on Sunday in the 2023 FIBA World Cup.
Asked if Jokubaitis can play in the NBA with the Knicks, Brunson answered in the affirmative.
“Yeah, he’s a great player,” Brunson said after the loss. “I got a lot of respect for him. It’s just always great when you can play against players, against the world. They got a lot of talent everywhere.”
Jokubaitis, the 34th overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, led Lithuania with six assists against only two turnovers on top of nine points, three rebounds and one steal. He was plus-8 in the game he controlled, starting with his steady playmaking and backcourt leadership.
Jokubaitis sparked Lithuania’s hot start with a feed to Jonas Valanciunas for the game’s first basket. Then he hit one of Lithuania’s five 3-pointers in the opening quarter as they seized a commanding 31-12 lead.
When Brunson spearheaded a Team USA 15-2 run that cut their lead to 56-52 at the start of the second half, Jokubaitis steadied Lithuania.
He set up Tadas Sedekerskis for a dunk before scoring on a jumper to hike Lithuania’s lead back up to double-digit, 62-52.
When the Americans made another push down the stretch, Jokubaitis came into the game and thwarted their rally. The 6-foot-4 Lithuanian point guard fed Tomas Dimsa for a back-breaking 3-pointer with 1:43 left, giving them an 11-point cushion. Jokubaitis made two free throws in Lithuania’s next possession, keeping Team USA at bay.
Brunson had a solid bounce-back game after getting benched in the fourth quarter of Team USA’s tough win over Montenegro two nights earlier. The Knicks starting point guard had 14 points and a game-high seven assists. He was plus-4 in his 23 minutes on the floor for Team USA, who had trouble against teams with size and outside shooting.
Despite Brunson’s endorsement, Jokubaitis is scheduled to continue playing for Barcelona in Europe next season, as the Knicks are currently loaded at their backcourt.
Jalen Brunson Takes Blame in Team USA Loss
Brunson took the blame for another lackadaisical start for Team USA that saw them falling short of climbing out of an early 19-point hole.
“[Lithuania] executed their game plan and we just started too slow,” Brunson said after the loss. “We played way better in the second half and waited too long to come to play. That’s on me. I have to come ready to play. I have to have everyone else ready to play. Respect to them, they played great.”
Former Knicks player Mindaugas Kuzminskas also hit two run-stopping buckets in the second half — a buzzer-beater at the end of the third quarter and a desperation 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down for a 94-85 Lithuania lead with 3:52 left.
Canada Survives Without RJ Barrett Down the Stretch
Canada withstood RJ Barrett‘s absence in the final 92 seconds of the game to advance to the quarterfinals and clinch a ticket to the Paris Olympics next year.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander took over after the hot-starting Barrett fouled out with 1:32 left as Canada eliminated Spain with a come-from-behind 88-85 victory.
The Knicks’ starting wing had 11 of his 16 points in the first quarter but cooled off after picking up his third foul in the second quarter. Spain appeared to be cruising to a victory after building a 12-point lead heading into the fourth quarter until Gilgeous-Alexander caught fire down the stretch.
Alder Almo is a basketball journalist covering the New York Knicks and Golden State Warirors for Heavy. He has more than 15 years of experience in local and international media, including broadcast, print and digital. He previously covered the Knicks for Empire Sports Media and the NBA for Off the Glass. Alder is from the Philippines and is now based in Jersey City, New Jersey. More about Alder Almo
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