USA Sneaks Past Lithuania, Spain Falls to Russia
Both Team USA and the Spanish national team had cruised to perfect records in the first three games of the Olympics, but on Saturday, both teams were tested to their limits.
Team USA fended off a pesky Lithuania side by the score of 99-94, needing a 17-6 run late in the fourth quarter in order to overcome a Lithuania lead. Spain burst out to a 22-5 advantage against Russia, but saw their lead dwindle away, ultimately falling to the Russians 77-74.
The Thunder’s Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka all saw action in the two contests as they continue to represent Oklahoma City on a national stage. On Monday, Team USA will finish group play against Argentina, while Spain will wrap up its Pool B games against Brazil in the final matches for each team before the medal rounds begin.
Team USA vs. Lithuania
For as white hot as the Americans were on Thursday against Nigeria in which they won by 83 points and seemingly couldn’t miss from three, Team USA was just as cold on Saturday.
Shooting only 10-for-33 from three-point land and 19-for-31 from the free throw line, Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s squad found itself in a dogfight with the scrappy Lithuanian side deep into the second half. Team USA’s struggles shooting the ball were exacerbated by Lithuania’s ability to knock down three-pointers (7-for-16) and get easy buckets, helping them shoot 58.5 percent from the floor on the day. Players like Chris Paul realized that in order to get easier shots themselves, Team USA needs to improve its defense.
“We have to communicate more and play together a little bit more,” Paul said. “We just have to be solid on the defensive end for 24 seconds every time down court.”
With the game tied at 69 apiece, Westbrook cut through the lane to receive a pass from Carmelo Anthony and finish with a sweeping right-handed layup with the foul, giving the USA a big boost. Later, the Americans trailed 84-82 when it embarked on a 17-6 run, including a 10-2 burst that gave Team USA a 97-88 lead with about two minutes remaining. The sequence included a LeBron James three pointer, a Paul steal that led to a James fast break dunk, a Deron Williams three-pointer off a pretty Durant pass and then a James layup, forcing Lithuania to call a timeout. From there on out, the US just put the ball in James’ hands and held on for the victory.
“I thought this was a good test for us,” Williams said. “Lithuania is a good team, a well-coached team. They know how to play the game. They’ve been together for some years. They made things tough on us. They moved the ball well and we didn’t hit shots like we did the last game…We haven’t had a game like that in the tournament yet.”
Durant finished the game with 16 points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals. Westbrook had seven points, two rebounds and a steal and Harden chipped in three points, a rebound and a steal. While this contest was the polar opposite of the US’ 156-73 victory over Nigeria on Thursday, it was equally as important to the team’s development moving forward.
“I think you build habits off both wins,” James said. “The 83 point game we were able to have 41 assists. That shows we’re playing a team game and that everybody has a good feel for it. Tonight’s game, you need a little bit of adversity to make it through this stretch. We didn’t shoot the lights out like we did the other night, but they still found a way to go out.”
Spain vs. Russia
In the early game on Saturday, Spain and Russia battled to the wire, with the Spanish side coming up just short.
The Spaniards jumped out to an 18-2 lead through the first five minutes of the first quarter, but Russia completely turned the tide of the game during the second and third quarters, eventually taking a 56-53 lead heading into the final period. Trailing 73-70 with 59 seconds remaining, Russia’s Viktor Khryapa knocked down a three pointer, then Timofey Mozgov slipped to the basket and slammed one home with 18 seconds remaining. After two Russian free throws with four seconds left made it 77-74, Spain had one last opportunity, but Marc Gasol turned the ball over to end the game.
Russia’s three-point shooting was a factor in London on Saturday, as it went 9-for-23 from deep in comparison to Spain’s 3-for-15 outing from behind the three-point stripe. As for the Thunder’s Ibaka, the long, rangy forward knocked down a jumper for his two points on the day in addition to three rebounds in nine minutes of action.