Flashback: LeBron James Helps Rally USA Men To 99-94 Victory Over Lithuania
With the USA trailing 82-80 in the fourth quarter, LeBron James (Miami Heat) scored nine of his 20 points in the last four minutes to help the U.S Olympic Men’s Basketball Team (4-0) outlast Lithuania (1-3) for a hard-fought 99-94 win to remain undefeated in the 2012 Olympic Games on Saturday afternoon at the Olympic Park Basketball Arena in London, England.
Deron Williams (Brooklyn Nets) scored five of his 12 points in the last 4:31 as well, while Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks) finished with 20 points, and Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder) added 16 points in the U.S. win. Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers) scored seven points, dished out six assists, grabbed seven rebounds and collected four steals, and Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves) was the team’s highest rebounder with eight boards while adding seven points.
“We had to make some big plays to win,” said USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski (Duke University). “So far in the tournament things have come easy to us because we’ve been hitting so many shots, and today because of the defense sometimes I think we passed up on shots because of guys hitting so many, you want to see them hit again instead of taking your shot. We can play better, but we played against a terrific team today. We had 17 steals that didn’t translate to the number of points that they should. Usually we get some momentum but today we got steals but not the points. It showed great resolve on their part that when they did make a mistake, they recovered quickly and didn’t have their head down. We beat an outstanding team today and had a lot of game pressure on us and we came through, and I am proud of them for doing that.”
“I feel like it was my time to step up offensively,” James said. “I have kind of been doing everything else, which I am ok with. I am here to do the little things, whatever the team needs in Coach K’s perspective. Like I told you guys, I can also score. I am blessed and happy. I was able to make a few buckets down the stretch.”
The USA was out-rebounded for the first time in the tournament, 42-37, but did force 23 turnovers, which it converted into 26 points. The team also raced to 23 fast-break points while holding Lithuania to just eight.
“You are always concerned because you are a competitor and you want to win,” Chris Paul said of the close score throughout. “That is a good team we played right there. We knew that coming in, so it’s always a great game when you play against Lithuania. Luckily we defended and got some stops down the stretch, guys made a few big plays. We knew this was going to be a dog fight and those guys played an unbelievable game and they played really hard.”
With the score tied at 4-4 early in the first quarter, the USA compiled an 8-0 run to take a 12-4 lead at 7:47. Lithuania battled to within three points before 3-pointers from Anthony and Durant helped put the USA on top 18-11 at 5:17. Lithuania again cut the lead to three points, 27-24, before long balls from Williams and Anthony gave the USA a six-point lead at the end of the first 10 minutes, 33-27.
While eight different American players put points on the board in the second quarter, Lithuania had an answer for nearly every U.S. score. By the time Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers) deflected a pass that led to a fast-break dunk by Anthony, the USA led 51-42 at 3:20. The tide turned from there, however, as the USA went cold, missing its last five 3-point attempts, and Lithuania outscored the USA 9-4 to close the first half trailing by just four points, 55-51.
Bryant picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter and played just 6:09 in the first half, while Andre Iguodala (Philadelphia 76ers) was whistled for three fouls in just 2:30 played.
The foul trouble shifted to Lithuania in the third quarter, and the USA shot its first bonus free throws at 5:46. The damage was minimized though, as the USA left five points at the free throw line and struggled from the field at just 6-of-18 field goal tries (33.3%) in the stanza. In fact, James’ basket at 8:17 (62-56) was the USA’s last made field goal until Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder) completed a 3-point play with 2:04 to go that put the USA back in the lead 72-69. The USA put the last two scores of the period on the board to head into the final stanza with a 78-72 lead.
“We shot it the other day (against Nigeria) about as good as you can shoot the ball, and today we shot it about as bad as you can shoot the ball,” Williams said. “Our defense was definitely there at the end for us, it’s what saved us. It’s what we try to take pride in and hang our hat on.”
After Anthony opened the fourth quarter with a jumper, Lithuania reeled off 10-straight points to capture an 82-80 lead following a 3-pointer at 6:48. Paul’s only 3-pointer of the game at 5:38 put the USA back on top by one point, 85-84, and was followed by a fast-break bucket from Williams that forced a Lithuanian timeout at 4:29, with the red, white and blue leading 87-84.
Lithuania scored out of the break to close within one point, but that was as close as they would get. James responded with a 3-pointer and a fast-break dunk, and then Williams nailed a three at 2:49 to give the USA some breathing room, 95-88. While Lithuania scored three more field goals in the last 1:55, the USA cleared out the key for James who scored twice more to bring the game to it’s 99-94 final.
“He (James) was terrific and really made the plays that needed to be made both offensively and defensively in the last three minutes,” Krzyzewski said. “You can’t practice those situations even if you put them up on the scoreboard in practice, but it is not the same game pressure. To see him respond to that in this setting is one of the great positives from the game.”
Lithuania was buoyed by 25 points from Linas Kleiza of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors and 14 points and six assists from Martynas Pocius, who played for Krzyzewski at Duke University.
Also today in Group A, France (3-1) topped Tunisia (0-4) 74-69, and Argentina (2-1) will play Nigeria (1-2) in tonight’s 10:15 p.m. game (5:15 EDT).
In Group B, Russia (4-0) edged Spain (3-1) 77-74, Brazil (3-1) beat China (0-4) 98-59, while Great Britain (0-3) faces Australia (1-2) tonight at 8:00 p.m. (3:00 p.m. EDT).
Preliminary round play for the Americans wraps up against Argentina at 10:15 p.m. (5:15 p.m. EDT) on Aug. 6. Olympic quarterfinal play is scheduled for Aug. 8, the semifinals are Aug. 10 and the finals are on Aug. 12.
Krzyzewski is assisted on the USA bench by Syracuse University and Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim and former NBA head coaches Mike D’Antoni and Nate McMillan.