by Devon Jeffreys, August 04, 2012
In an 83-point rout of Nigeria on Thursday, Deron Williams and Team USA looked unbeatable, ready to roll to gold. Saturday against Lithuania was a different story.
Lithuania came out strong and played the Americans tight from beginning to end, but Team USA came back from an 84-82 deficit with 5:51 to go, outscoring Lithuania 17-12 down the stretch to pull out a 99-94 win.
D-Will finished with 12 points, five of which came in those tense final six minutes. He also added two steals, two assists and a rebound in 23 minutes. After the game he said that while playing tight games helps the team grow, this one may have been a little too tense.
"It was a little too close for comfort," he said. "It is good to have games like this where it seems like not everything is going right for us and we were able to battle through it, play through it, hunker down on the defensive end and make plays down the stretch. LeBron was amazing down the stretch, definitely opened the game up for us."
James scored nine of the other 12 points in the final six for Team USA, taking over the game when they needed him most. Chris Paul had the other bucket, a trey that put the Americans in front for good with 5:38 remaining. Coach Mike Krzyzewski used a lineup that included both point guards — Paul and D-Will — down the stretch.
The lineup, which Krzyzewski used exclusively over the final five minutes of the game featured James at center, Carmelo Anthony and then Kevin Durant at power forward, Kobe Bryant at small forward, D-Will at shooting guard and Paul at the point. Though the lineup did outscore Lithuania, Deron believes it made a bigger impact on the defensive end, where Team USA pressured Lithuania and forced three turnovers in the final minutes.
"We become a little quicker, a little more athletic [when we go small]," Deron said. "We're able to get after them and pressure a little bit more and create some more havoc out there on the floor."
Team USA's final surge started when Paul's three fell with under six to go. Lithuania was in the midst of a 12-2 run at the time and had held leads of 82-80 and 84-82 when Paul knocked down his trey to put Team USA in front 85-84. The teams traded misses after the triple, giving Lithuania the ball with the chance to take the lead back.
"They're a good team," Deron said of Lithuania. "They played well together and they execute to death. They're well-coached. They came out with a good game plan. We got a little stretched out on the floor and they got confidence."
Krzyzewski put his small lineup on the floor to try and disrupt that confidence. It worked immediately as Team USA chased Lithuanian point guard Sarunas Jasikevicius into a bad pass that Carmelo Anthony caught and pushed ahead to Paul on a 2-on-1 fastbreak with D-Will. Paul drew the defender, then dumped a bounce pass to Deron for a driving layup to make it a three-point game.
Lithuania scored on its next possession to keep the pressure on Team USA, but LeBron began to take over from there. First he took a D-Will feed and sank a three from the top of the key to make it 90-86. Team USA followed the trey by forcing a turnover and creating a fastbreak opportunity. Durant grabbed the loose ball and pushed it ahead to Deron, who dished to LeBron for a fastbreak dunk.
After a bucket by Lithuania pushed the USA lead back down to four, Deron hit the dagger, knocking down a triple with 2:48 to give Team USA a seven-point lead. LeBron followed with another bucket to make it 97-88 and force a timeout by Lithuania. They cut back into the lead following the timeout, but James hit another shot with 1:10 to go to put the game away.
The late work from D-Will came in stark contrast to his first three quarters, when he scored seven points, but needed nine shots to get them. His first bucket came with 35 seconds left in the first, a trey that put the U.S. up 30-24.
His next one didn't come until there were only six seconds left in the third, when he made a layup to send Team USA into the fourth with a 78-72 lead. In between he missed four shots, went 2-for-4 at the line and turned the ball over twice.
But his five points and two assists in the final five minutes, along with the incredible play of James and some stifling defense from all five men on the floor for Team USA saved the day.
"We shot it the other day about as good as you can shoot the ball and today we shot it about as bad as you can shoot the ball," D-Will 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."
Team USA finishes up pool play on Monday night in London against Argentina.
It won't be the first time the two teams have faced in the last month. The Americans bested Argentina 86-80 in a friendly matchup at Spain's Palau Sant Jordi on July 22. D-Will believes Monday's matchup will be another great game and sees a chance for Team USA to close out pool play and head into the tournament with momentum.
"We've already played them once in the friendly game and had a good test. They're probably better now than they were then and so are we. It'll be a great matchup for us, another great test to see where we are at … the last game before the real fun stuff."
Tip-off is scheduled for 5:15 EDT on Monday and the game can be seen live on NBC Sports Network.
- Instant Analysis: Team USA 99, Lithuania 94 (ESPN.com, August 4, 2012)
- LeBron James Helps Rally USA Men To 99-94 Victory Over Lithuania (USA Basketball, August 4, 2012)
- Additional Quotes >> USA 99, Lithuania 94 Lithuania (USA Basketball, August 4, 2012)
- Untested no longer in U.S. slim win (Associated Press, August 5, 2012)
- U.S. evades Lithuania (SI.com, August 4, 2012)
- Lithuania still causing issues for USA (ESPN.com, August 4, 2012)