Lithuania took a two-point fourth quarter lead. Lumps filled the throats of American players and fans. Lithuania shot 58% from the field. They shot a better percentage than the U.S. from the free throw line and three point line. And Lithuania out-rebounded the Americans as well.
The U.S. starters got off to a good start, but in a reverse of the Tunisia game, the bench (except for Carmelo Anthony) laid an egg. Anthony had 10 points in the first and the Americans took 33-25 lead. Lithuania cut that lead in half by the midway point. Effective ball movement created open shots for Lithuania. The lack of rim protectors also helped Lithuania keep it close.
Meanwhile, the Americans stubbornly chucked up contested three pointers despite struggling from long distance. At one point, the U.S. had made only 2 of their previous 19 threes. But the U.S.'s ability to force turnovers kept them in front most of the way. The ball-hawking defense instigated 23 Lithuanian turnovers, 17 of those from steals. The U.S.'s defensive aggressiveness has been the hallmark of the team, but it hurt them today. Lithuania continuously made the extra pass allowing for numerous open shots, which was directly responsible for their high shooting percentage.
Meanwhile, the Americans failed to probe Lithuania's zone until LeBron James took over the game late in the fourth. He had 20 points matching Anthony's team high total. Chris Paul had 6 of the team 13 assists. The low assist total shows that the Americans did not use their customary unselfish ball movement in this game.
For Lithuania, Linus Kleiza had 25 points and was the main man for his squad. Sarunas Jasikevicius was another key player, amassing 6 assists and shooting 3 for 4 from the field. He made his two three pointers. Martynas Pocius had 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists. Darius Songaila shot 5 for 6 for 11 points.
There was a number of fouls called in this game. That also threw off the Americans' rhythm. A choppy game will always benefit the U.S.'s opponent. The U.S. had to endure whistles and boos while on offense throughout the game. Thanks to James's run at the end, the Americans held on for a 99-94 win.
Some, including Coach Mike Krzyzewski, criticized the U.S. for running up the score in their 156-73 win over Nigeria on Thursday. I'm all for sportsmanship, but that does not involve giving less than a 100% effort. It was Nigeria's responsibility to stop the U.S. from running up the score, not the U.S.'s. The U.S. had open threes and took them. There's nothing wrong with that. There was no crotch-grabbing or unnecessary trash talk. All the U.S. did was honor the game by giving maximum effort until the final buzzer. That showed more sportsmanship than the alternative.