Lithuania beats USA
Lithuania's Sarunas Jasikevicius (see
picture) missed what would have been a game winning three against the U.S.
in the 2000 Olympic semifinal. Four years later the Lithuanian guard shoved a
dagger in the U.S. Olympic Men's Basketball Team's heart Saturday night, scoring
12 of his game high 28 points in a span of 1:51 of the game's final 2:47 to lead
Lithuania to a 94-90 come from behind victory. The win leaves Lithuania a perfect
4-0 and drops the USA to 2-2.
Preliminary group play concludes Monday when the U.S. meets 0-4 Angola, 88-56 losers to Greece Saturday night.
With the day's other results in, despite the loss, the USA is still assured of moving on to the medal round quarterfinals which will be played Thursday, Aug. 26. The top four teams from each of the two preliminary round groups move on to the quarterfinals. Each preliminary round group's No. 1 seed plays the opposite group's No. 4 seed, and each group's No. 2 seed will play the other group's No. 3 seed. A USA win over Angola will earn the U.S. the No. 3 seed from Group B. Winners from the quarterfinals games advance to the Aug. 27 medal semifinal contests, and the final games will be held Aug. 28.
"I'm disappointed to say the least. But I think we're getting better," said Larry Brown, USA head coach. "The end result is we gave up over 90 points. We can't have a game like that defensively and expect to win against a quality team."
"I believe we controlled the game for 98 percent of it," said Jefferson. "Down the stretch we had some turnovers, jumping in the air to make passes, some calls that we didn't feel went our way, about five or six of them in a row down the court. Lithuania did a great job of capitalizing, knocking down free throws, hitting some big shots. I think we let the referees and that minute stretch where they got, it felt like, every single call, get in the way of our playing. And we can't do that."
Richard Jefferson (New Jersey Nets) made his first 3-pointer of the Olympics with 3:23 to play in the fourth period to help the Americans move ahead 84-79. Lithuania's Sailius Strombergas, who made six consecutive free throws between from 4:11 to 3:16, sank a pair of charity tries with 3:16 to play the reduce the gap to 84-81.
Following a U.S. turnover, Jasikevicius was able to hit an amazing three and draw the foul, and after completing the four-point play, Lithuania was up by a single point, 85-84 with 2:47 left.
Just 14 seconds later Jasikevicius nailed another three to push the lead to 88-84.
Jefferson countered with 1:50 to go with a 3-pointer to pull the U.S. back within one, 88-87,however, Jasikevicius came back down and hit his third straight 3-pointer with 1:38 left on the clock to help Lithuania to a 91-87 advantage. After a U.S. miss on the other end, Jasikevicius was fouled and after making both free throws, Lithuania owned a 93-87 lead with 56.1 seconds remaining.
Jefferson kept the U.S. hopes alive with his third 3-pointer to make it 93-90 with 45 clicks left on the clock.
Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat) gave the U.S. additional hope when he came up with a steal with 26 seconds to play, but the U.S. missed a game-tying three, and after Lithuania secured the rebound the U.S. was forced to foul with 5.1 seconds left. Ramunas Siskauskas missed his first free throw, but made his second to ice the 94-90 victory.
Several statistics from the fourth quarter tell the tale of the game. Lithuania made 14-of-15 free throws in the final 10 minutes, as compared to the U.S. making one of its two free throw tries. Lithuania shot 3-of-6 from 3-point, while the USA was 4-for-9, and finally, Lithuania made 5-of-9 (55.5 percent) shots overall in the final stanza, while the U.S. was 8-of-19 (42.1 percent).
"It was a very tough game. I thought they played very well. They shot the ball incredibly well. They got a couple calls down the stretch that didn't help us out but I have to give them a lot of credit because they played very well," said USA co-captain Tim Duncan.
After falling behind early, 15-10 and 17-13, the Americans closed the opening quarter with a 13-6 run to secure a 26-23 lead after one quarter.
The U.S. advantage would climb to as many as 10 points on three different occasions in the second quarter, the last time 39-29 with 4:52 to play before half following an Allen Iverson (Philadelphia 76ers) steal and layup.
But Lithuania continued to peck away and after Lamar Odom (Los Angeles Lakers) connected on a 3-pointer with 1.1 remaining before halftime, the U.S. had a 49-44 lead at the break.
Enjoying a 65-56 lead with 3:57 to play in the third quarter following a pair of free throws from Stephon Marbury (New York Knicks), Lithuania outscored the USA 11-4 to close the deficit to 69-67 after three quarters and set the stage for the exciting fourth quarter.
Jefferson, who had struggled with his shooting (4-26 FGs, 0-11 3pt FGs) during the USA's first three games, busted out of his slump accounting for 20 points on 6-of-8 shooting overall. Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs), posted his third double-double in four Olympic Games, compiling 16 points (6-7 FGs) and 12 rebounds, while Iverson and Odom each tallied 11 points, and Carlos Boozer (Utah Jazz) finished with 10 points.
Jasikevicius' 28 points led Lithuania's effort, while Strombergas finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Siskauskas was credited with 14 points.
In other action Saturday, Puerto Rico (3-1) handed Australia (1-3) an 87- 82 loss; Spain (4-0) remained undefeated after knocking off Serbia & Montenegro (1-3) 76- 68; Argentina (3-1) fought off New Zealand (1-3) 98-94; Italy (2-2) whipped China (1-3) 89-52, and host Greece (2-2) upended Angola (0-4) 88-56.
The 2004 Olympic men's basketball competition is being held Aug. 15-28 in Athens. The United States men, the three-time defending Olympic champions.
Brown, who has won a gold medal as a player at the 1964 Olympics and as an assistant coach at the 2000 Olympics, and who most recently led the Detroit Pistons to the 2004 NBA title, is head coach of the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team and will draw on his recent international head coaching experiences that saw him lead USA teams in 1999 and 2003 to 10-0 records and Olympic qualifying berths. Assisting Brown on the USA bench is San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, who owns a pair of NBA championships (1999 and 2003), and a pair of very successful collegiate head mentors in Clemson University's (S.C.) Oliver Purnell and University of North Carolina's Roy Williams.
The U.S. men, gold medalists in 12 of the 14 Olympics in which it has participated, now own a remarkable 111-4 win-loss record in Olympic play for a .965 winning percentage. USA Olympic teams featuring NBA players are 26-2 since making their first appearance at the 1992 Olympics and the U.S. has won the last three Olympic titles when NBA players have participated (1992, 1996, and 2000).