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Lithuania gives USA a real test, but LeBron passes it in 99-94 win

Aug 4, 2012, 12:04 PM EST

James of the U.S. goes in for a lay-up past Lithuania's Kleiza during their men's preliminary round Group A basketball match at the Basketball Arena during the London 2012 Olympic Games Reuters

There is a script for beating the USA, we talked about it before the Olympics: Pack the paint on defense and hope they miss threes, play good transition defense, don’t turn the ball over, and have a hot shooting night yourself.

Lithuania did almost all of that, playing their best game of the Olympics by far.

But there is no script for stopping LeBron James.

With the USA down USA 84-82 in the fourth, LeBron scored 9 of the USA’s final 17 points to lead the USA to a hard-fought 99-94 win. A win that keeps them undefeated (4-0) in Group A play and headed to the medal round.

For three and a half games LeBron had been a facilitator, a guy doing all the little things for Team USA. But when it was on the line for real LeBron reminded everyone he was the best player on the face of the earth. In the final minutes he hit a key three, threw down a dunk in transition, backed his man down in the paint and put up a pretty spin move — seven key, fast points that changed the tide of the game. He was clutch. He was everything his detractors said he wasn’t a year ago.

The USA coaching staff and players will spin this game as “it was good for us to be tested in group play, it helps us going forward.” I’m not totally on board with that. It might remind them they need to be focused every game, but Lithuania (and every team the USA plays from here on out) is good and if you let them get a foot in the door they will make it a game. A real game. The playground of the Nigeria game is long gone.

It was close because Lithuania played smart, played to the script and flat out executed against the USA better than they have all tournament.

On defense they switched every pick then the big man would slide back a step and dare the USA ball handler to shoot the three. The USA took the bait, especially in the first half, turning that big-on-small into isolation basketball and then settling for jumpers. In the first half the USA was 6-of-19 from three (31.7 percent) and shot 47.6 percent overall.

For the game, the USA was 10-of-33 from three (30.3 percent) and for the game shot 44.3 percent.

When the shots weren’t falling they adjusted in the second half and worked hard, making the extra pass and attacking the paint. It worked, the Americans drew fouls, but the USA was just 19-of-31 from the free throw line (61.3 percent). Kevin Love could not find his stroke, he was 3-of-8 from the stripe.

The USA is supposed to cover its off offensive nights with good defense, but they didn’t for much of this contest.

The USA did a terrible job on transition defense, allowing a slower Lithuanian team to get good looks pushing the ball. The USA also did a poor job switching — or whatever it was they were trying to do — on the pick and roll, allowing former NBA point guard Sarunas Jasikevicius to carve them up. Linas Kleiza had 25 points and outplayed the USA in the paint for much of the game.

And it was a game. Lithuania’s Achilles heel turned out to be turnovers — they had 23 of them. They struggled to enter the ball into the post late in the game, they made some unwise passes that led to USA fast breaks. It was a key difference.

LeBron James had 20 points for Team USA, along with Carmelo Anthony who also had 20. Kevin Durant had 16.

So the USA will spin this as “a wake up call” or some such thing, but in a short Olympic tournament (8 games at most) you shouldn’t need one.

What this shows is that when the outside shots are not falling, and when their pressure defense takes a night off or doesn’t work on experienced guards, the USA is vulnerable.

But despite all that the Americans may still win, because at the end of the day they still have the best player in the world on their team. And probably the next five or six on that list as well.

  1. surefooted1 - Aug 4, 2012 at 12:08 PM

    I can’t wait to read “Dream Team” comments now.

    • nesuperfan - Aug 4, 2012 at 1:05 PM

      I still think they will win the gold medal, but I hope this quiets the better than 1992 talk.

    • namriverrat69 - Aug 4, 2012 at 2:46 PM

      This team, as good as they are, could’nt carry the real Dream Team’s jocks.

    • iknowzeroaboutsports - Aug 4, 2012 at 3:30 PM

      Here is your comment: 2012 has great players. They’re a gold medal team. But no way they beat the 1992 team.

    • 1972wasalongtimeago - Aug 4, 2012 at 6:05 PM

      You know how you know you’re great?

      When the only team that can possibly beat you can never possibly play you.

  2. Mr. Jones - Aug 4, 2012 at 12:16 PM

    Reblogged this on Sports w/ KJ.

    • phaden27 - Aug 4, 2012 at 1:15 PM

      Just KJ? What about Hondo?

  3. beagle11 - Aug 4, 2012 at 12:24 PM

    Anyone think the Petrovic/Kukoc/Radja 92 Croatia team would compete for a medal in these olympics?

    • beagle11 - Aug 4, 2012 at 12:29 PM

      6 Players who spent time in the NBA..

  4. paulhargis53 - Aug 4, 2012 at 12:34 PM

    92 never had this close of a game.

    2012 team does not win the gold medal

  5. giselleisasucubus - Aug 4, 2012 at 12:39 PM

    Debate over, not that anyone with a clue ever had a question who was a better team. 92′s team wasn’t a little better, it was light years better than this 2012 team.

  6. lucky5934 - Aug 4, 2012 at 1:27 PM

    Someone please tell me again how awesome this 2012 version of the dream team is and that they could win against the 1992 team. What’s that Kobe? Oh yeah… crickets!

  7. minnesota32 - Aug 4, 2012 at 1:33 PM

    I’m so sick of the 92 vs 2012 comparisons. In 92 every international team was like Nigeria is this year, terrible. It’s not a secret the rest of the world has made up some of the ground between the United States in basketball. From top to bottom, the talent level is much more consistent now than it was back then, although the US is still the cream of the crop.

  8. jwreck - Aug 4, 2012 at 1:38 PM

    Blah-ze-blah, ’92, 2012, whatever. It really isn’t that complicated. While the scorers on the ’12 team are unarguably better, they just don’t have the bigs. Lithuania does. That’s why this game was close and there may be close games in the future. This game doesn’t say anything about which team is necessarily better. It just shows that, like the Miami Heat, the 2012 team has a significant weakness at the 4 and 5 position. That doesn’t make them bad, it just makes them vulnerable, and means they’ll have to find ways to compensate for that weakness in the future.

    • jimeejohnson - Aug 4, 2012 at 1:47 PM

      Agree with your comment 100%, but the 92 team did not have any significant weaknesses at any position, and were literally invulnerable. Still, we’d need a time machine to truly prove which team is better. Calling H.G. Wells.

      • jwreck - Aug 4, 2012 at 2:28 PM

        Truth. The question then is who wins: the great team with size, or the great team with some of the best 2′s and 3′s to ever play the game. I’m tempted to say size; but that’s a whole different discussion that really could be argued either way until, like you said, we get a time machine. The real point here is that a close game with a talented team doesn’t prove anything in the ’92/2012 debate, only that the Raptors may have the best big in the NBA in a year or two.

      • minnesota32 - Aug 4, 2012 at 3:03 PM

        I agree with you about the 92 team not having any weaknesses. But, the only reason the 2012 team was them is injuries. For example, Tyson Chandler has no business being on this team, but since Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum and LaMarcus Aldridge are all hurt he’s our starting center. In my opinion, that’s the only reason why this is a discussion.

      • jwreck - Aug 4, 2012 at 4:42 PM

        minny32- that’s kind of a valid point, the two teams would be much more comparable if we had all of our bigs healthy.
        On the other hand, the team is the team. Injured players who would be on the team don’t count towards the talent of the team. How good would the Colts have been if Peyton didn’t need surgery last season? Moot point: he did need surgery and they sucked.
        Secondly, Dwight, Aldridge, Bynum, Bosh, Griffin, and Garnett are all very good players, as is Tyson Chandler, but honestly they just don’t hold a candle to Ewing, Malone, Robinson, and Barkley.

      • gor76 - Aug 4, 2012 at 6:22 PM

        The Dream Team had size as well as some of the best 2′s and 3′s to ever play the game. In fact, they started perhaps the greatest player to ever play the game at the 2.

      • jwreck - Aug 5, 2012 at 1:39 PM

        gor76- Sort of. Again, this is all time machine type stuff, and impossible to compare. The fact is, the game has changed a lot since 1992: specifically due to the increased importance of the 3 ball. Nobody on the ’92 team grew up practicing three pointers, as they just weren’t as big of a factor back then. Bird, Jordan, Pippen, and Drexler were unquestionably amazing players, but if they had been born ten or fifteen years later, they might have been so great we wouldn’t even have anything to talk about here.

        The simple fact is that every player on the 2012 team, with the exceptions of Davis and Chandler, shoots the 3 ball better than Larry Bird, the best 3 point shooter on the 92 team. Jordan may be the greatest scorer of all time, but Kevin Love will end his career with a better three-point percentage. This is not to say that if the shooters on the original Dream Team had played in the modern era they wouldn’t have been as talented or just as great players: just that it’s really hard to compare 2′s and 3′s from twenty years ago and today.

        And it’s not just the 3 pointer itself: higher three point percentages mean a more spread out defense, which meas wider driving lanes, and just a completely different game on offense. Basically, what it boils down to is that comparing athletes and teams across history is stupid.

    • iknowzeroaboutsports - Aug 4, 2012 at 3:33 PM

      Again, anyone who thinks the 2012 team is better than the 1992 team was born after 1987.

    • itsonlyaspeedbump - Aug 4, 2012 at 5:15 PM

      Shhhhhhh…listen…that’s the sound of…wait for it…Omygosh…its..its..PERSPECTIVE! That we simply CAN NOT have. This is a sports debate. We need overbearing emotion and bias.

      Quick, someone who favors the Dream Team come in and shout down jwreck and call him stupid and young. Then after that we can have someone who is in favor of the 2012 team call him ‘stupid’ and ‘old.’

  9. dgbk - Aug 4, 2012 at 2:07 PM

    Chris paul made a lot of clutch plays but lets not stop the lebron love fest.

  10. metalhead65 - Aug 4, 2012 at 2:15 PM

    the dream team would have had trouble beating this team to,but then again as Larry Bird said they are alot older now and have been retired for years. what’s this teams excuse? oh wait the other countries are better than they were 20 years ago right? even so our best should beat theirs by more than 5. please nit another word about who the better team is. the one the only and the original 92 dream team.

    • jwreck - Aug 5, 2012 at 2:37 PM

      I’m not trying to take a stand in the ’92/2012 debate here, I just wanted to point out that other countries being dramatically better is a pretty valid excuse for not being as dominant as the original Dream Team. Today, basketball is the second largest sport internationally. 20 years ago, it was a blip on the Olympic radar screen for countries not named America (the anti-badminton, you might say). Eastern Europe, today the largest exporter of international basketball talent, had just learned there was a world on the other side of the iron curtain,and were too busy drawing up their national constitutions and decentralizing their economies to worry about creating competitive Olympic basketball teams.

  11. profootballwalk - Aug 4, 2012 at 2:16 PM

    Lithuania is the size of New Jersey. This is like an NBA all-star team almost losing to an all-New Jersey college team. Think about it. Total disgrace.

    • jwreck - Aug 5, 2012 at 2:16 PM

      The game should not have been that close, but this is not at all an accurate comparison. First off, I don’t want to open a racial can of worms here, but Eastern Europeans are big, physically. So start off with a state the size of New Jersey, but instead of instead of being filled with Snookis and their offspring, filled with the population of a state known for producing large people: let’s say Wisconsin.

      Next, over the last couple decades, Europe has created extensive systems for developing athletic talent. From a young age, Europeans with the beginnings of basketball talent are sent to intensive camps, after school programs, seminars, and eventually basketball academies: where they prepare for careers as professional athletes. By the time European players are the same age as NBA draft prospects, the talented ones have already been playing professional basketball for two or three years. So “college team” is an invalid comparison; all these guys are pros: maybe not NBA level pros, but still pros.

      Lastly, there is a great deal of international player movement within the European professional basketball leagues and, though I can’t give you an exact number, it’s a good bet that at least a third of the Lithuanian National Team are not native born Lithuanians.

      So really a better comparison is if the best basketball prospects in Wisconsin, plus a handful from Illinois and Minnesota had been groomed since age six to become professional basketball players, and all had more youth, NCAA level and professional experience than the US National Team.

      That’s not to say almost losing to that team isn’t disgraceful, embarrassing, and unacceptable: just a little more understandable.

  12. eflem80 - Aug 4, 2012 at 2:17 PM

    The 92 team DID have weaknesses….the competition however was so garbage it didn’t matter. Magic couldn’t guard a shadow (that’s what his teammate Clyde Drexler thought at least) and as good as the starting line up was, fact is only the bigs off the bench would’ve made this years team. People need to get over it…this team is playing against far better teams than the 92 team ever did & is still unbeatable.

    • iknowzeroaboutsports - Aug 4, 2012 at 3:35 PM

      ^— born after 1987.

  13. knightrider1755 - Aug 4, 2012 at 2:23 PM

    Not as much fun as playing against Nigeria.

  14. matt20hew - Aug 4, 2012 at 2:29 PM

    Reblogged this on Today's News.

  15. timb12 - Aug 4, 2012 at 2:54 PM

    They had a bad night. Using this game as a reference to how they would do against any team is flawed. That’s like pointing to a game Jordan didn’t score double digits and saying “oh yeah, you think this guy is the best of all time?” This 2012 team is filled with studs, I was 1 in 92 so I can’t really comment on how good that team was, but I know they were stacked like no other team. It’s a silly debate, but we shouldn’t make it worse by not assuming both teams would bring their best.

  16. semperfi1997 - Aug 4, 2012 at 5:13 PM

    anybody knows where can I watch the replay of the game thnx

  17. 24thesho - Aug 4, 2012 at 5:43 PM

    When are people going to learn to keep their mouths shut, just play and stay humble when it comes to international competition. This dream is going to lose to Argentina, Spain or France because these guys as a team are just too shoot too many 3 pointer, are too small down low and it is going to bite them in the ass soon. Kobe can talk the talk and walk the walk but he’s a bit older and a step slower and the other guys on Team USA aren’t good enough to sustain an the onslaught the ’92 Dream Team displayed. I hope they do win but I have had my doubts. They could have had Hibbart, Cousins, Granger but they (Colangelo and Coach K. and staff) were too concerned about image and star power. They should have been more concerned with adding “bigs” and low post players. Deron Williams, Kevin Love and Chris Paul are kind of weak on this squad. Play strong, stay quiet and carry a big stick. Whatever happened to that?

  18. packhawk04 - Aug 4, 2012 at 6:05 PM

    “6 players who spent time in the NBA”….

    Yep. Kobe, lebron, durant, chris paul, etc… had a hell of a time with some guys that “spent time in the NBA.”

    Let that sink in.

    And then wonder how theyd do against a bunch of hall of famers.

    • beagle11 - Aug 4, 2012 at 10:55 PM

      Read my comment again. Read it slowly. Maybe put a helmet on first so you don’t hurt yourself.

    • beagle11 - Aug 4, 2012 at 10:57 PM

      I said metal. Not GOLD metal. Trying to put the competition comparison in some sort of context.

  19. ptestonm - Aug 4, 2012 at 6:59 PM

    .as a guy born before 1987…….well before 1987….the match up of the 1992 Olympic team vs 2012 version would be interesting. Look at the roster……I can see Magic or Stockton able to handle CP3 or R Westbrook. On the other hand as great asLebron and Kobe maybe on the defense end, neither could contain much less stop Jordan. But on the other hand nobody on the 92 team physically could match up with LeBron, to quick and to strong. Their best defenders, Jordan and Pippen, would both need to pack extra lunch. Then again…..Tyson Chandler against Ewing or Robinson, sorry there is no discussion. Its all about match ups

  20. isujames - Aug 4, 2012 at 10:15 PM

    I don’t want to hear NO MORE F*!#@n “NONSENSE” about this team beating the 1992 DREAMTEAM.NO MORE JOKES, BECAUSE THATS ALL THEY ARE.MJ,Karl Malone,Sir Charles,P Ewing,Stockton,Bird and D Robinson etc WOULD HAVE DEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESTROYYYYYYYYYEDDDDD POOR LITHUANIA from the opening tip.

  21. isujames - Aug 4, 2012 at 10:19 PM

    Did Beagle say Petrovic,Kukoc and Radja in the 92 olympics??????? That team would be as good today as any team the USA , at Anytime has faced in the OLYMPICS. GOOGLE THOSE 3 PLAYERS. R.I.P D PETROVIC HELLUVA 3 POINT SHOOTER AND COULD HAVE BEEN BEST FOREIGN PLAYER EVER!!!!!!!!!

  22. jh4prez - Aug 4, 2012 at 10:59 PM

    “probably?”

  23. isujames - Aug 4, 2012 at 11:04 PM

    ^^^^ WTF are you talking about wiiiiierrrrrrrrdoooo go jump in front of a moving train.

  24. badintent - Aug 5, 2012 at 5:16 AM

    To all the jive as* suckers that said that 2012( and that includes you Kobe and your fakers as*kissers) would beat the Dream Team, be very quiet and stay in your room and off the computer.And bow to the King for saving your butts again. Thanks LBJ, and enjoy the Tennis finals today.
    Tell Kobe to stay in the gym and practice , we talking about practice, Melo too ! Linza is a bench player for a terrible team and he cut through your 2012 wet dream team like Butter !!

  25. asublimeday - Aug 6, 2012 at 12:53 AM

    Dream team>>>>>2012 team.

    And there is a strong script for stopping LeBron: make him play with a good, not great, team. He can’t do it himself the way the greats can.

    • whoisadamjones - Aug 6, 2012 at 9:44 AM

      Dream team debate aside, name one great who did it by himself. Really… Name one. Magic didn’t, Bird Didn’t, Jordan didn’t, Robertson didn’t, Isaiah Thomas didn’t, The 60′s Celtics were almost all Hall of Famers, Irving didn’t, Shaq didn’t, neither Malone did, probably the closest you’ll get is Wes Unseld with the Bullets, though even he had fellow HOFer Elvin Hayes on the team.

      So in reality, maybe the closest is actually Dirk two years ago. Though even he had a future HOFer on the team in Jason Kidd, plus Tyson Chandler ain’t half bad, and there was clearly some chemistry on that squad based on how they fell apart the next year.

      Basically: long and short, nobody can do it by themselves in the NBA. And it really speaks to LeBron’s greatess that he even brought the Cavaliers to the finals in ’07, as that wasn’t a “good” team, that was a bad team (plus LeBron).

      • njh64 - Aug 7, 2012 at 7:01 PM

        Actually Mose Malone(Rockets) was the one who almost did it all by himself. Moses led 80-81 playoffs in scoring & rebounding. He just had Robert Reid and 32 year old HOF Calvin Murphy who was in his last year as a starter and was out of the league 2 years later. Rudy T was also on the team but he was a shell of his former self. Didn’t start & it was his last year. Then absolutely nobody. The Rockets Lost to the Celtics in the 1st year of the Bird/McHale/Parish Dynamo. But that team McHale was a rookie was led by Bird/Tiny Archibald/Parrish and Cornbread Maxwell who won the Finals MVP. Even though the Rockets only finished 40-42. Moses had to beat the Kareem/Magic/Wilkes/Nixon/Cooper Lakers who were the champs the year before. Then the George “IceMan” Gervin who had a bye. then the equally surprising Otis Birdsong/Phil Ford/Scott Wedman/Reggie King Kansas City Kings. Who beat the Trail Blazers who had 7 players with double digits in scoring & the Suns who had the other bye and were led by Walter Davis/Dennis Johnson/Truck Robinson who all avg 18pts a game.

      • njh64 - Aug 7, 2012 at 7:08 PM

        Sorry it was supposed to say… Then the George “IceMan” Gervin led Spurs who were 3rd in the NBA in scoring at 112.3 pts a game.

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