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.