Team USA finally, finally, had their first test of this Olympic Games as Lithuania gave them absolutely everything they could handle, including taking a lead late in the fourth quarter. Team USA had just a four-point lead at halftime, and when the game came to an end, only won by a mere five points.
To put this into context, it is the closest win the U.S. has ever had since before the Beijing Games. During the 2008 Olympic Games, the closest win they had was in the gold medal game, where they beat Spain by a margin of 11.
It was quite an interesting performance for Team USA. Just two days prior they had come off of the best Olympic basketball game, perhaps even the best offensive showing in all of basketball, All-Star games included, when they absolutely crushed Nigeria.
Not only did Team USA set absolutely every shooting and scoring record you could think of, they actually played so well that the thought of calling them the "Dream Team" was back on everyone's minds. They played well enough to beat the Dream Team and really played well enough to think that there was no chance they could lose the gold medal.
Well, against Lithuania, they did not play this game. They did not play well enough to beat the Dream Team and they have now allowed doubt to creep into some minds and a little bit of ease to exist for their opponents. Not only did they just barely beat Lithuania, but in the process had a huge weakness, something that could serve detrimental against Spain and Argentina, exposed.
Lithuania could have attempted threes all game and wouldn't have made a single shot. The U.S. seemed to defend the line so well that it looked like all of their guys were guarding it. If that was the case, you have to wonder, who was guarding the paint, inside the post?
If the score of the game doesn't answer that question then look at how Lithuania got most of their points. They were allowed to dribble and drive to the basket all day, putting on a clinic of how to shoot and execute lay-ups.
The U.S. team is already hampered by their lack of size under the basket and it certainly doesn't help when they aren't defending the basket as well as they should be. It also doesn't help when their pick-and-roll defense is almost nonexistent.
It sounds strange to say this about a team not being the U.S., but Lithuania really dictated the speed and style of the game being played. They took the shots they wanted to take and seemed to all game, dictate the pace on both offense and defense.
If not for some clutch shots by Deron Williams and LeBron James taking over the game late, Lithuania might have even pulled off the biggest upset in these London Games so far.
Despite big wins, it really is worth noting that the teams with quicker and stronger players, have given the U.S. some trouble so far in these Olympic Games. Obviously, none of this has really caused any reason for concern because the U.S. still managed to win all of their games by a margin of over 20 points, but now that they just barely got the victory, it has to be a thought on Coach K's mind.
Without Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin, it was clear the U.S. was going to be undersized and it was also clear that one team could be poised to take advantage of this: Spain.
Before the U.S. faces Spain, however, they have a very important final pool play match against the third-best team in the world in Argentina.
Once again, Argentina will be led by NBA All-Star Manu Ginobili, who continues to prove that age is only a number. His Argentina team, just like his San Antonio Spurs team, is one of the older teams in the world, but like the Spurs, they have not let age affect their level of play.
As it turns out, Ginobili is one of the better players in the world and NBA at executing the pick-and-roll offense, a style of play that the Spurs utilize frequently with both Ginobili and Tony Parker.
Against Argentina, the U.S. will have to improve upon their interior and pick-and-roll defense. It almost cost them against a much worse Lithuania team and against a better team in Argentina, could be quite disastrous.
So as Lithuania exposed what could be a major weakness, the U.S. team themselves showed a bit of another weakness they have in the reliance on the jump shot.
When you look at the scoring they did against Nigeria, seemingly not missing a shot at points during the game, the U.S. was on fire. Basket after basket they drained and their bread-and-butter in the long range jumper was almost unstoppable.Then you take a game against Lithuania where the jump shooting nearly went cold. They didn't even break 100 points, let alone score 156.
It was said even before the Olympic Games started that this U.S. team would live and die by the jump shot, and that is what they have showed so far. Against Nigeria, they lived by the shot, and against Lithuania they nearly died by it.
While the U.S. may have more weaknesses in their game, more obstacles to winning the gold medal than initially, though, they are still the clear favorites. They have what most teams don't and that is a closer. Not to mention, their closer is the defending Finals MVP in James.
James before this year was almost a liability in the fourth quarter, not someone you would go to to take the game into his hands and just take over offensively. As he showed however in the NBA Finals, he can be this player.
On Team USA, not only can he be this player, but he is this guy. Formerly Kobe Bryant's role, sometimes Carmelo Anthony's, when the chips are down, as they rarely are for the U.S. team, they have one of the best in the NBA and probably the world when it comes to taking over a basketball game.
As long as James can continue his heroics, his leadership and his overall ability to just be dominant especially when the U.S. needs it most, no amount of bad defense or poor jump shooting will keep this team from a second consecutive gold medal.