Olympics 2012: Team USA survives test, tops Lithuania

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“We can play better offensively and defensively, no questions about that,” Krzyzewski said.

It didn’t help that the U.S. also missed 12 free throws, with Kevin Love going 3 of 8.

“Shaq on the free-throw line today,” Love posted on his Twitter page, comparing himself to Shaquille O’Neal. “My bad USA. Good win for us. Needed a game like that.”

Linas Kleiza scored 25 points and Martynas Pocius, who played for Krzyzewski at Duke, had 14 for Lithuania, the longtime hoop power with three Olympic bronze medals on its resume.

Krzyzewski figured his team would be challenged sooner or later and was not at all surprised the first real conflict came against Lithuania.

“These guys are really good,” he said. “We needed this.”

No, this wasn’t easy, and that may be good in the long run for the Americans, who couldn’t have helped but feel a little overconfident after Thursday’s game when they made 29 3-pointers, scored 78 points in both halves and put on a breathtaking 40-minute display of international basketball.

Lithuania had lost to Nigeria last month in a qualifying tournament, but that hardly mattered once the ball went in the air.

“It’s always a great game when we play against Lithuania,” Paul said. “We knew this was gonna be a dog fight and those guys played an unbelievable, unbelievable game.”

With a roster featuring Kleiza, who plays for the Toronto Raptors, and several players who played collegiately in the U.S., Lithuania, went right at the Americans’ star-studded crew from the start.

In fact, Lithuania outrebounded the U.S. 42-37 and for long stretches it was the sharper team on the floor. Lithuania also shot an impressive 58 percent (38 for 65) from the field. But with a bench like no other, the U.S. simply wore Lithuania down in the fourth quarter, forcing several turnovers to swing the game in the final minutes.

After Russia upset Spain 77-74 in the morning session to win Group B, Russia’s Andrei Kirilenko said there isn’t any team that can’t be beat.

“One night you can have 156 points, and a different night the ball could start missing,” he said.

The words seemed prophetic as the Americans never found its collective touch, never led by more than 12 and were lucky Lithuania misfired on some big shots in the fourth.

Krzyzewski gave his team Friday off, canceling practice to rest players coming off a grueling NBA schedule and allow them a chance to get out and to other events and root on their Olympic teammates. The day off may have cost the Americans a little of their edge as they came out somewhat sloppy.

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