by Ben Taylor / @benitaylor
USA 99, Lithuania 94
Thursday’s victory over Nigeria might have been a record breaker, but this was the kind of game that Coach K was hoping his team would be getting in the first round of the competition—a tough workout against a skilled, well organized side, playing great team basketball. It was also a pretty fun game to watch for us fans, too.
It was, arguably, the first time Team USA have had a real defensive challenge—Lithuania did a great job of creating options, whether through quick ball movement outside, penetrating and dishing, or running the lane and taking contact to pick up easy points from the free throw line. At the other end, while the US struggled from outside—taking a lot of forced three point shots—they were also having success in the paint, dominating the offensive boards and creating second chance shots.
The game was tight, and every time it looked like Team USA were stretching the lead, Lithuania came up with big plays to pull it back. At the half, the defending gold medalists held a 4-point lead.
Lithuania came out strong in the second half. Again, the US looked a little casual with the ball, settling for lazy shots, while Lithuania continued to play their own game—taking the lead midway through the third quarter. This spurred Team USA into action. They increased the pace, got the fast break going (which had been non-existent), and dialled up the pressure on the Lithuanian ball carriers—leading to key steals and turnovers. Lithuania gave up the ball 23 times in the game, leading to 26 US points.
A big three from Deron Williams off an offensive rebound with three minutes remaining in the fourth took the lead to 7, and Lithuania couldn’t pull it back from there. LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony picked up 20 points each to top score for Team USA, while Kevin Love had another big night on the boards—finishing with four offensive and four defensive rebounds. Linas Kleiza top scored for Lithuania, with 25 points.
One thing I can’t help but think watching these US games is that LeBron seems happy to play second fiddle to other guys on the team, but whenever he does post someone up, or penetrates the lane, he’s unstoppable. If he wanted to, it looks like he could beat these teams on his own. Perhaps he’s saving that for the latter rounds.
France 73, Tunisia 69
After their previous game with Argentina, I asked what might happen if Tunisia could get their game going for four quarters. That’s pretty much what happened against France, as they pushed Tony Parker and Co. all the way to final minutes after an incredible comeback.
Twenty-two from Parker and 19 from Nicolas Batum looked to have finished Tunisia in the third quarter, with France holding a 17-point lead. But the African champions showed the same fight we had seen against Argentina and Team USA to get themselves back in the game—Mohamed Hadidane playing the game of his life to pick up 20 points in just 14 minutes, supported by Macram Ben Romdhane, who finished with 17.
In the end, France had just enough to hold them out, and move to 3-1 in Group A.
Russia 77, Spain 74
Group B’s two unbeaten sides went head to head yesterday morning, with Russia continuing their incredible form to beat Spain, the team most had picked to meet Team USA in the final.
An end-to-end game in which Russia came back from 20-2 down in the first, this one came down to the dying seconds, with Spain’s Pau Gasol sent to the line to tie the game with 5.3 left on the clock. He could only make one of his two foul shots, and when Russia’s Vitaliy Fridzon collected the ball on the inbounds and was fouled, he calmly closed out the 3-point victory.
Fridzon was Russia’s star man, finishing with 24 points, on a night when teammate Andrei Kirilenko struggled to get it going. Russia now sits comfortable at the top of Group B with one game to play.
Brazil 98, China 59
Brazil dominated their game with China to pick up their second win of the competition and seal a place in the quarter finals. China never really put up a challenge, Brazil leading from the tip and stretching the lead to as many as 42 points.
With the lead out of reach, Brazil spread the ball around, five of their team finishing with 10 points or more—including 14 for Marquinhos Vieira and 13 for Leandro Barbosa.
China plays Great Britain on Monday, with both teams looking to avoid finishing the competition winless.
Australia 106, Great Britain 75
A second half collapse from Great Britain saw them eliminated from the competition, throwing away a 15-point third quarter lead to hand Australia a win that sees them progress to the quarter finals.
It had looked so good for GB, who went in at half time with a comfortable lead—Joel Freeland having a dominant first half on both ends of the floor. But, when Australia came out for the second half firing, GB panicked. They couldn’t keep hold of the ball, giving up easy turnovers and making a string of bad decisions that Australia capitalized upon.
Patty Mills had a huge game, finishing with 39 points. Freeland top scored for GB with 17.
Argentina 93, Nigeria 79
Argentina continued their impressive campaign with a solid win over Nigeria, who bounced back well from Thursday’s horror show of a performance against USA.
Manu Ginobli had another great all-around game, finding holes in the Nigerian defense to create opportunities for his guys, allowing Argentina to open up an early lead. Nigeria’s strong 3-point shooting kept them in the game, but Argentina were too smart and too strong. Manu finished with 13 points, 8 assists and 4 rebounds, with Carlos Delfino leading all scorers with 18 points.
Argentina plays Team USA in a huge final Group A game on Monday, only one point separating the US from Argentina and France.