U.S. Survives Lithuania 99-94, Thanks To Work Of Late-Game James

LONDON – LeBron James certainly didn’t look like a worried man.

Moments after leaving the floor victorious in an as-close-as-it looks 99-94 win over Lithuania Saturday at the Olympic Basketball Arena, a relaxed James seemed almost relieved that he and the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team were put to the test sooner rather than later.

“I love the competition,” he said. “The best teams want to be tested. And I think we have some of the greatest competitors in our league [NBA] and in this world. So you want to have a game where you feel like you are tested and we had that today.”

As fun as winning by 52.3 points a night and breaking scoring and 3-point shooting records can be, it’s fun to be in the pressure cooker now and then. And no one knows pressure like James, whose muscle memory from leading the Miami Heat in The Finals worked flawlessly.

James led a 17-10 closing run, after the U.S. trailed twice in the final six minutes and 44 seconds of the game, taking over the game without really announcing as much as he was doing it.

“For LeBron to say, ‘look, I got this. I’m doing this,’” U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said before being interrupted mid-sentence and asked if those were the words that came out James’ mouth. “Some people talk with their bodies and their actions and I think he did that. Basically, he did that because he wouldn’t give the ball up out on top. I think with his actions he was kind of saying that.”

The U.S. needed it. Two days after a record-setting performance in a 156-73 rout of Nigeria, Lithuania proved that this U.S. Team, while breathtaking when they are making nearly every shot they put up, is susceptible to the same failings as any confident group when they stray from their principles.

Unable to connect at a record rate from deep this time around (they went from a 29-for-46 showing Thursday night to a much more human 10-for-33 effort), the U.S. seemed to let their struggles on offense spill over into their work on the other end of the floor. Lithuania executed its offense to perfection, dared the U.S. to shoot over the tops of their outstretched hands on defense and refused to allow the fast-break showcase everyone saw against Nigeria an encore performance against a program that owns three Olympic bronze medals.

“For us, as competitors, we want to have a test game,” James said after leading the U.S. with 20 points, tying Carmelo Anthony for team-high honors. “Any team can be beat in this tournament if you don’t come out and prepare the right way and play the right way. And Lithuania gave us a great game. I don’t think we were flat or anything. We just played a better, first of all. A well-coached team and a team that’s been in the Olympics, time after time after time. They’re not afraid of the light. So it’s not about us being flat.”

And it wasn’t about the U.S. still daydreaming about the 3-point parade they enjoyed against Nigeria and trying to relive that moment.

“The last game we made history,” James said. “But that’s why it’s called history. It’s over with. Today was a new game. And we know in order for us to win we have to defend, we have to rebound and we have to share the ball offensively. And we know if we do that we give ourselves a good chance to win.”

They needed every bit of what James could give them on this day. With Lithuania’s key players — Linas Kleiza (game-high 25 points), Martynas Pocius (14, seven rebounds and six assists), Darius Songaila (11 points) and Sarunas Jasikevicius (eight points and six assists) — clicking with the game on the line late, the U.S. needed some scoring help from James.

He scored 14 of his points after halftime, nine in the final four minutes — and that includes a 3-pointer, and three driving layups — that preserved the U.S. Team’s unblemished record (4-0) here and order in the basketball world on what was billed as Super Saturday here at the Olympics, where 21 gold medals were to be rewarded on the busiest day of the Summer Games.

“I just felt it was a little like my time to step up offensively,” James said. “I’ve been kind of doing everything else, which I’m okay with. I’m here to do all of the little things, do whatever this team needs, whatever for the team, from Coach K’s perspective. But like I told you guys, I can also score some. And I’m blessed and happy to make some buckets down the stretch.”

The U.S. Team had to be happy to have the NBA’s reigning regular season and Finals MVP on their side with the elimination rounds of this competition on the horizon.

They have walked the tightrope between history (Thursday) and infamy in their last two games. Monday’s tilt against Argentina holds the promise of even more drama, if Manu Ginobili and his crew can muster a similar performance to the one Lithuania gave.

“You can’t win them all by 30,” said Deron Williams, whose 3-point dagger on a sweet dime from Chris Paul with 2:46 to play helped end the Lithuanian threat. “This shows us we can win close games. This is a good win for us. Lithuania is a tough team, We knew that coming in and we never overlooked this team once. We know they’ve been together for years, they know how to play and give them credit, they executed well.”

Paul echoed the sentiment, insisting that the game was less about what the U.S. did wrong and much more about how good Lithuania is how sound their system has always been.

“Give them credit for executing their offense,” Paul said. “That was definitely the toughest game we’ve have since we’ve been here.”

As much as this team learns about itself during the good times, they might learn even more when things get a bit sticky. If nothing else, the U.S. learned that they can lean on James, if need be.

“This was a good for us,” Williams said. “Nothing really went our way all game, but the last couple of minutes we hunkered down, LeBron took over, we got some stops and we got the win. These are the types of games you have to win at some point and it’s good we got it out of the way now.”

58 Comments

  1. EC says:

    The quintessence is easy:

    1. Lithuania has 1/100 of the size of the US. If they had 300 mn people and a similar pro league, they would easily beat the US. It was not about “a good vs. a bad day”.

    2. Team 92 would have easily won this one because they could play team D and solve difficult situations by playing. Team 12 only won due to individual skills and athleticism and because of a diving Kobe and LBJ taking over. Their D was horrible.

  2. Belizeboy says:

    Not to discredit Lithuania but I don’t believe that the US was playing their best. I think they basically were told to make it a close game. Think about it; after their last win everyone was expecting them to roll over the rest of the competition and thus probably wouldn’t want to tune in to see that. The US is a hated team by a majority of the countries. Now with them winning a very close game people will think they are beatable and ratings will be up from here on in.

  3. KJAMES says:

    king lebron james 3 time mvp season an mvp finals and a champ trophy and now a usa olympic basketball team savior…and if the game goes on the line…lean on the king…yeah!!!!

  4. zllzn says:

    Lietuva, or what the jersey reads from Team Lithuania, did a great job of not allowing Team USA in transition very much. They fouled just as soon as somebody from Team USA crossed the halfcourt line.
    That limited USA’s momentum and had to play one-on -one basketball the way Team USA does when they are having a bad “team” game.
    If the other teams/countries could perfect this strategy against Team USA and cut down on turnovers late, then Team USA is in for a great challenge in London.
    I still think that with great adjustments from coach K( and the rest of the coaching staff), Team USA has already cooked up a new strategy against the hack-a- somebody-crossing-the halfcourt-line technique by future opponents.
    This is just one observation that I saw from the game, and there are lots of comments that are rightful and true throughout this thread.
    I still think that USA Basketball will win it all but Im still hoping that they DONT.
    XX

  5. Liand says:

    Great game USA,our little country Lithuania is The Other Dream Team. :)
    Looking forward to play with your country again,the game was spectacular. :)

  6. lets go says:

    lebron is so good because of his body and speed he could go into the paint easily thats why its very hard to guard him and lebron is clutch most of the time but sometimes hes not. im a big kobe fan but right now hes just not clutch hes old

  7. KOBE FAN #1 says:

    IF KOBE DELIVERED GREAT, IF LEBRON DELVIERED GREAT. IF MELO DELIVERED GREAT. IT DOSENT MATTER WHO SCORES THE FINAL POINTS, BECAUSE AT THE END THEY ALL GOT THE SAME “USA” PRINT ON THEY JERSEY. & GIVE CREDIT TO LITHUANIA FOR PLAYING THEIR HEART OUT!

  8. USA#1 says:

    The USA won and that is all that matters. As always, when the game is on the line Lebron James is to the rescue. All of them can score in the run away games but they needed the best player in the world to take over. And take over he did.

  9. KB24 says:

    Kobe is still the Best Clutch player that the league has & he has more Rings than LeBron , Kobe has 5 rings & LeBron only has 1? Is funny how people tend to say LeBron is a better Clutch player ? Than Kobe seriously ? How many clutch games & Clutch shots Kobe Has had in all the games he has played? Like the shot he made on Wade (which he said was a lucky shot) But that’s just Greatness!!!!!!!! Kobe Bryant Is Still THE BEST PLAYER IN THE WORLD!!!!!! & HE IS STILL THE BEST CLUTCH PLAYER IN THE NBA!!!!!! Nuff said #Team KB24Forever

    • Belizeboy says:

      So why does the best player in the world only have one MVP award? I can see why he has 5 rings because NBA championshps are won by TEAMS, not just one player. Kobe is an NBA legend already, but the best player in the world…I think not. Also Durant is more clutch than Kobe.

  10. sherrie says:

    what happened to the dream team vs 2012 debate? which team is better now? I’m sure the dream team did not trail late in the game in the 1992 olympics.

    • richard882 says:

      What happened is that in 1992 the competition globally was very poor. Many players in non-USA team now plays in the NBA. In 1992 the Dream Team played mostly against third world countries whose primary concern was not playing basketball, but putting food on the table. Now it’s different, the gap is closing. 1992 team would’ve probably lost by 20 against 2012 Lithuania.

  11. underdog says:

    Oh please Seikou, it’s not because of LeBron, it’s because of their TEAM defense.. And anyone except maybe for Chandler, AD, and Harden could have finished Lithuania. It’s just the coach decided to give the play to LeBron. Please don’t give him this much of a credit.

  12. Kingdom says:

    LEBRON TAKE OVERRRRR

  13. team pilipinas says:

    go USA men’s basketball!

  14. Samo says:

    If the refs dared to call travelling on Durant on a break, a foul on Pocius on the three point attempt, an offensive foul against Melo when he was elbowing his way to the basket, all of those in the final minutes, things could’ve been different. But I cannot believe how the US constantly fail to play as a team. To US team play is when someone dribbles for 15 secs, then drives and finds someone open when he’s double-teamed.

    US is superior, though. The athleticism they posses is ridiculous. That’s why they win these tournaments. But I don’t enjoy watching their games, the beauty of basketball is in true team play, when the ball is really shared and there is a lot of movement without the ball.

  15. bar1kenoby says:

    Very sad prove from the USA

  16. Krespıno says:

    Argentina beat this Lithuania team by 20 points. Not an impressive score for the dream team…

    • john says:

      So what if Argentina beat LTU by 20? We barely beat Brazil in the Worlds and who won the Gold Medal? I remember the US beating LTU by double digits. One game does not make a tournament. Relax. It’s a lesson and LTU still needs to beat Russia or Spain in the knockout round. Bye Bye!

  17. Eduard says:

    Why don’t u ever talk about Carmelo Anthony? It’s always about LeBron and Kevin Durant. I hate that. I believe that Melo is still the best offensive player in the world, and you are overlooking him.

  18. nomasabuso says:

    king james knows when to speed up

  19. 24trhesho says:

    This USA squad is wack and they all play like they do not need the money.

  20. Stern says:

    Who Said That Lebron Can’t Clutch??

  21. Kestas says:

    as I said (sorry ;) before the game, the key was turnovers, i.e. USA defense. Lithuania had 23 turnovers against USA’s 9. Lithuania usually has a lot of turnovers, but even with 23:9 we had a close game. Basically, if Lithuania would have lost the ball less than 20 times, USA would have probably lost the match. this should be interesting for USA fans, because teams like Spain commit much less turnovers in general and have a pretty good (if not much better) offense too. what this means is that USA is not unbeatable, period. they will probably win the Games, but fact is they barely beat the team that is not in the best shape (lost to Argentina and France convincingly) and commited 23 turnovers. Don’t forget this.

    • nonbiased fan says:

      luck was on their side today too. don’t get me wrong, Lithuania played team USA beautifully but USA wasn’t hitting anything. the thing about USA’s offense is that if they can’t get some shots up they just do the same thing and shoot it anyways. their lack of ball movement regardless of their offensive fire will be their downfall if there will ever be one

  22. tenby says:

    Pocius played with Duke University some few years back under the tutelage of coack K..

  23. Matas (LTU) says:

    Great game ! :) We almost…..could win this :)

  24. KDS says:

    They can sure count on the refs, they handed them that game.

  25. usa #1 fan says:

    the Dream Team played like a nightmare, almost lost it, but who cares…..oh yeah,,,those other teams, the wanna b in dreams team and want 2 win,win,win…not lose

  26. Mindaugas says:

    great game..next time we beat you USA..next time..:)) LIthuania forever!! let’s go guys!!

      • richard882 says:

        Lithuania already beat USA, in 2004 Olympics. So no “dreams”, all “reality”.

      • richard882 says:

        No “dreams”, Lithuania already beat USA team in the 2004 Olympics. So all reality and no dreams :)

    • Jennifer says:

      Man it was USA’s worst yours best day and you could not win. + James did not play like he did in last 5 min. :) USA had some coaching mistakes on rotation like keeping the line too small at one point.

      • richard882 says:

        No, it wasnt “USA worst day”, they actually played very good. And I remind you that USA already lost to Lithuania :) in the 2004 Olympics, when they got beat 94-90 by Lithuania, and they couldnt do anything about it. Then they also lost to Argentina and got eliminated :) they played to their max and couldnt anything about it, they still got beat. They’ll be beat again, if not this time, in the future.

  27. USA WILL NOT WIN GOLD says:

    Interior Defense.

    Lithuania could have attempted threes all game and wouldn’t have made a single shot. The U.S. seemed to defend the line so well that it looked like all of their guys were guarding it. If that was the case, you have to wonder, who was guarding the paint, inside the post?

    If the score of the game doesn’t answer that question then look at how Lithuania got most of their points. They were allowed to dribble and drive to the basket all day, putting on a clinic of how to shoot and execute lay-ups.

    The U.S. team is already hampered by their lack of size under the basket and it certainly doesn’t help when they aren’t defending the basket as well as they should be. It also doesn’t help when their pick-and-roll defense is almost nonexistent.

    It sounds strange to say this about a team not being the U.S., but Lithuania really dictated the speed and style of the game being played. They took the shots they wanted to take and seemed to all game, dictate the pace on both offense and defense.

    • nonbiased fan says:

      yep. exactly. their defense on the pick and roll was just off and that’s how lithuania exploited them. they are a very smart team as you can see from the shots they’re taking. very efficient offensively and they are patient. it looked more like they are a much more veteran team than the USA team today. what a beautiful game by lithuania. outplayed offensively and defensively on the halfcourt. didn’t expect it to be this close actually. great win for the USA too showing their poise down the stretch thanks to Lebron’s intensity and CP3′s defensive pressure.

  28. memoo says:

    nice lebron james

  29. Amitpal says:

    After one close game why r people counting team USA like they just lost the gold. It’s one game. Yeah USA is beatable cuz they r to unselfish and nobody wants to take over a game but they still have like the top 8 players in the olymipics on this team. Yes they r a jump shooting team but and get cold sometimes but that’s nothing to worry about. They easily have the best closers in the world and they will be fine. Lithuania is a pretty good team. There record migh not say but yet r. Team USA will be fine and will win the gold.

  30. Joel says:

    No days off? cmon its their job .. you want i off day too of your job to rest and relax… they won it anyway

  31. King Clutch does it again…no choking kobrick needed

  32. Umi says:

    @ Genius help us ask @me Lithuania made sure they kept the US transition game in check and defended the 3′s very well besides they’ve always given the US problems. Lithuania played well gotta give em some credit… Team US could’ve shot better but it had lil or nothing to do with practice or rest

    • nonbiased fan says:

      agreed. gotta give them credit. they outplayed them in the halfcourt. if it weren’t for those turnovers which led to easy baskets in transition it would’ve gone the other way. very good showing for lithuania. it showed the USA’s weakness. what i don’t like about the USA team is that they rely on their 3s heavily and as u can see, u can either live or die by the 3.

  33. Travis says:

    Expect the same in the Argentina game I think Argentina has a better team than Spain does. It might not look like it on paper but as a unit Argentina is a very good team that will be overly prepared for the U.S

  34. Genius says:

    Yes. No days off again. After games, they should go straight to practice. They should practice all the time, only resting to eat and sleep. Then, from practice, they should run to the stadium and keep practicing until the game is ready to be played. Because a win isn’t a win unless it’s a blowout. Is that about right?

    • nonbiased fan says:

      wow really? you’re speaking like these guys are robots. remember they came from a very strenuous season in the NBA. they deserve to enjoy themselves. they don’t need anyone to tell them to play better. they know what they did wrong and they will go and watch film to lessen their mistakes. gotta give lithuania credit. they are a desperate team. this is what happens when u corner a tiger. good thing the USA team locked down defensively and got easy transition baskets or else it would’ve gone the other way.

  35. me says:

    shouldn’t have had taht day off cos they could have won without being that close…