All the proper talking points are now there. After winning by 83 the U.S. needed this test… Team USA needed a wake-up call before the medal rounds… Now Coach K has something to work with. Et cetera, et cetera.
Whatever you want to take from it, the U.S. just barely limped away with a 99-94 win against a completely game Lithuania squad. The Lithuanians actually held a two-point fourth quarter lead with 6:16 left at 82-80. Kevin Durant tied the game with a dunk, Lithuania answered with another bucket to go up two, but Chris Paul drilled a large 3-pointer to give the U.S. a lead they wouldn’t give back.
LeBron scored nine of Team USA’s final 12 points as KD went just 1-of-4 in the fourth for two points. It wasn’t Durant’s best showing though he finished with 16 points (5-12 shooting), four rebounds and two steals. But really, defensively he just wasn’t keyed in as he consistently showed too hard on shooters around the 3-point line allowing easy penetration.
Just based on body language, it seemed like KD was a little frustrated with the finish of the game in that he was such an offensive afterthought. I mean, he’s not exactly used to that, you know. After Kobe grabbed a steal after a Lithuania rebound, Durant was wide open for 3 but Kobe decided to pull out the ball and run some clock. KD stood in the corner with his hand up looking for the ball as LeBron isolated. But as LeBron finished a tough banker, KD let out a fistpump as he ran to the other end.
That’s the thing with KD. He always wants the ball. ALWAYS. We’ve seen that same sort of thing as Russell Westbrook would isolate and attack on his own as Durant was frozen out. And while he clearly wanted the ball, it’s just in that moment. In the end, it’s about the result and when it’s good, Durant’s totally cool with how it happened. Of course he wanted that shot, wanted the chance to knock down the dagger. That’s who he is.
One play I want to point out though: After Chris Paul grabbed a big offensive rebound with 2:50 left and the U.S. up 92-88, he kicked out to an open Durant. But instead of KD firing the 3, he made an excellent decision to make an extra pass to more open Deron Williams who canned a big 3 to put Team USA up seven. Great unselfish, smart basketball play from KD there. And you know he wanted to shoot it.
As for Westbrook, he played extremely well in spurts as Team USA’s jackrabbit energy guy, scoring seven points on 3-7 shooting. It looked like he was about to ignite a little third quarter run to put Lithuania away, but after two slashing buckets and some high energy defense, the Lithuanians responded again.
Coach K even got creative with Westbrook, playing him for a few minutes at small forward in a super small lineup featuring CP3, Deron Williams, Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James.
James Harden played a few minutes in the first half scoring three points on 1-2 shooting.
Not USA related, but a note on Serge Ibaka: He appears to be getting squeezed in Spain’s rotation. He played only nine minutes in Spain’s loss to Russia today, and didn’t see any time in the second half. This comes after he played just 12 minutes in the game before that. With both Gasols it’s understandable how Spain’s frontcourt can get crowded, but clearly he’s the odd man out.
Next up for the U.S. is a big one against Argentina Monday.