Team USA Escapes Against Lithuania; Paul Pierce Bitter Over Ray Allen’s Exit

By: 08.05.12
Nike Basketball Innovation: LeBron James

Nike Basketball Innovation: LeBron James (photo. Nike)

When Linas Kleiza lined up a triple and splashed it to put Lithuania up two with under seven minutes to go against Team USA, it must’ve felt like all of Buckingham Palace was crashing down on their heads. Coming off a ridiculous thrashing of Nigeria, nobody figured the Yanks would have a game on their hands this early. Even on Twitter, more people were talking about Serena Williams‘ crip walk than a potential USA dud. But Lithuania, who do have Kleiza, Sarunas Jasikevicius and Toronto’s potential stud, Jonas Valanciunas, ALWAYS play Team USA tough. Since 2000, they’ve beaten us, taken us to a game-deciding shot, and have only been beat by double digits once. They’re solid. They just don’t have LeBron James, who was the difference in the 99-94 win. The King pushed Team USA to 74-2 all time in pool play with pro players (both losses came in Athens, by the way) as he spearheaded a 15-4 run in the fourth quarter with nine late points. He was also involved in the biggest exchange of the game: a pull-up triple and then a dunk off a steal that turned a one-point game into a comfortable six-point lead in the final four minutes. A few possessions later, he added running layups first with the left hand, and then the right. LeBron was so good late that he turned Kobe Bryant into a crunch time spectator and deep corner statue, and not a word was said about it … Normally, this is where you insert the cliche statement, “They’ll learn more from this than from 83-point blowouts.” Team USA might. Their opponents definitely will. Lithuania carved them up and grilled them all night on the pick-n-roll, whether they were finding mismatches on the screener or swinging the ball and getting wide open looks off the Americans help. Has anyone seen the Americans’ D? They didn’t need it while scoring 156, but they won’t win a gold if they give up that many easy layups again. In particular, we think Kobe left his stateside. He was getting the run by more often than a New York toll booth. Then, there was the free throwing shooting. Kevin Love even apologized on Twitter later because it was so bad. They missed 12 of 31 from the line, and while the total doesn’t sound so bad, almost all of those misses came during important second-half trips. A perfect way to sum up Team USA’s off game: in the third quarter, Carmelo Anthony – who was STILL super hot from the floor in the first quarter… at one point dating back a game or two, he had made 19 of his last 22 shots – stole a pass and came down on a 3-on-2. Then, he stopped, backed up, and chucked up a three … What happened to Craig Sager‘s wardrobe? Did NBC put the clamps on our favorite character from That ’70s Show? … Keep reading to hear what Jazz star is about to get his cash …

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As for our main competition, Spain dropped the ball against Russia, going up early 22-5 before losing, 77-74. Pau Gasol missed a late free throw and then Marc Gasol threw the ball away on the team’s final possession. Is this a good thing? Our main competition losing? Actually… not really. Now, there’s a very good chance the anticipated showdown with the Gasol bros happens before the Gold medal game, which gives us an extra night of tough basketball before playing for it all … When we dropped our top 25 underpaid players in the game last week, a lot of you readers were pissed we didn’t have Paul Millsap on there. Well… now he could soon be officially ineligible. The Jazz are reportedly going to offer him the max level extenstion to keep him in Utah. It comes out to be $25 million over three years. It’s crazy because when Millsap first signed his last deal, a lot of people thought he was overpaid. Now, he’s a bargain. A lineup of Millsap-Jefferson-Favors has proven it’ll work in the short term, but can it work over the long haul? … Paul Pierce knows it’s all a business. In fact, he even admitted recently that he wouldn’t be opposed to leaving the Celtics and finishing his career with a new team. So when reporters asked him this weekend about his response to Ray Allen pulling a Johnny Damon and going to the enemy, he understood it. But that doesn’t mean he still wasn’t bitter about it. Jesus had to leave. He didn’t get along with Rajon Rondo. The team had moved in a different direction with Avery Bradley taking his minutes. But still, the Big Three created a brotherhood, and won a title together. They’re going to have some issues going against each other next year. Ray will never hold a grudge like that – unless we’re talking Kobe Bryant – but you can bet the Boston fans will. We’re SO interested to see what they do once he comes back to the Bean … We’re out like USA at the charity stripe.

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