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What Went Wrong For Team USA Versus Lithuania?

Lebron James — Team USA Basketball — Olympics 2012
Christian Petersen, Getty Images

Team USA shattered several Olympic records in their 83 point rout of Nigeria on Thursday. They were bound to cool off a little… but a lot? They needed a burst from LeBron James late in the 4th quarter on Saturday to slip past a feisty Lithuania squad that took the United States to the brink.

James (pictured left) scored 9 of his 20 points in the final 4 minutes, helping the U.S. preserve a perfect record (4-0) thus far at the Olympic Games. Carmelo Anthony also added 20 off the bench.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski will have plenty for his team to focus on as the Americans prepare for their final game of group play on Monday against Argentina. He gave his team two days off (Wednesday and Friday) after their dominant victories over Tunisia and Nigeria. It’s highly unlikely James and company can expect another day off as they prepare for the medal round next week.

What was the biggest issue for the U.S. on Saturday? Defense. For a squad that prides itself on aggressive defense, they didn’t show much pride in this one. Lithuania’s pick-and-roll attack nearly guided them to an unlikely upset. NBA vet Linas Kleiza was nearly unstoppable, scoring 25 points for his native Country. Long-range jumpers were falling for Linas. Once the U.S. began to rotate better, Kleiza attacked the rim, taking advantage of team USA’s lack of size when Tyson Chandler was off the floor.

Offensively, the United States couldn’t find the stroke they displayed two days earlier when they nailed an Olympic record 29 three pointers. Saturday, they missed 20, going 10-33 from beyond the arc, and too often settling for long jumpers instead of working the ball around. The lack of ball movement nearly cost them, as did their free throw shooting. Missing 12 of 31 from the charity strip led Kevin Love to send out the following tweet.

“Shaq on the free throw line today!!! My bad USA. Good win for us. Needed a game like that. On to the next.”
Love’s point about his team needing “a game like that” should not be ignored. Team USA now knows they’re not invincible. They also know what it feels like to play a tight game in crunch time. Perhaps staring defeat in the face can galvanize a United States team who has been on more of a vacation than a business trip. It wasn’t their fault, they just hadn’t received a legit challenge….until today.

Despite everything the U.S. did wrong, they still left the arena with a 5 point win and an unblemished record. Being pushed to the brink may have ended their “vacation,” turning their focus to the challenge ahead…winning the Gold medal. Anything else will be unacceptable.

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