Team USA Just Barely Survived A Gut Check From LithuaniaS

The final score—99-94—doesn't tell the whole story: Lithuania had a lead in the fourth quarter, and there were moments where it looked like just about everything that could go wrong for the US team would: atrocious free throw shooting, no rhythm from outside, easy scores for Lithuania's guards, and Coach K making that scary angry weasel face he always makes. Midway through the fourth, the U.S. men's team even had to call a timeout, only their second of the tournament. Some credit should go to a stingy Lithuanian defense that didn't take no guff, but the U.S. squad spent a lot of the game happy to throw up mid-range bricks.

Lithuania had success with dribble-penetration, a fact which may prove instructive for U.S. opponents later in the tournament. Many said this incarnation of Team USA would have trouble defending inside with so few traditional big men, and this game proved them at least partly right. Tyson Chandler played little, and has looked pretty lost in international play thus far. The next most intimidating big man on the roster is the not-so-intimidating Kevin Love. Nonetheless, when the U.S. pulled away at the end, LeBron James was playing center (and dominating) along with Durant, Bryant, Deron Williams and Chris Paul. That is a small lineup, and it worked when it mattered.

The game was mostly for pride anyway, at least for Team USA. There are two groups of six teams each in the preliminary rounds, and four teams from each group will advance to the bracketed stage. You get two points for a win and one for a loss, and it seems unlikely that the US would have been surpassed in points by two teams. Not Tunisia, which has four points and has played four of five games, and probably not Nigeria, which has four points and has played three of five games (and would need to beat both France and Argentina to get to eight). Still, point totals will affect the seeding in the next round, so the US team helped themselves here by gutting out the win. They'll play Argentina for their last group game on Monday.

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