LONDON, England (AFP) — LeBron James seized command with the game up for grabs and the United States defeated Lithuania 99-94 yesterday to clinch a berth in the medal play-offs at the Olympic men's basketball tournament.
But the US NBA Dream Team received their toughest test yet at the London Games only two nights after unleashing an Olympic record 156-point performance in a shooting practice of a victory over Nigeria.
James and Carmelo Anthony each scored 20 points, while Kevin Durant added 16 as the Americans remained unbeaten despite a 25-point effort from Lithuanian captain Linas Kleiza of the NBA Toronto Raptors.
Darius Songaila sank a jumper to pull Lithuania within 87-86 before James took charge with nine points in a game-winning 12-2 US run, hitting a three-pointer to start the spurt and a lay-up to end it in the dying seconds.
The US multi-millionaires rose to 58-1 record under coach Mike Krzyzewski since revamping the national team programme after settling for bronze at the 2004 Olympics.
The Lithuanians have a history with the US squad that includes a 1998 World Championships victory, a 94-90 triumph at the 2004 Olympics and an 85-83 loss at the 2000 Olympics when a half-court buzzer shot fell short.
The US NBA stars led 78-72 entering the fourth quarter but Kleiza sparked a 10-2 Lithuania run to give the Europeans an 82-80 edge, setting the stage for the closing drama.
Sarunas Jasikevicius sank a three-pointer 36 seconds into the third quarter to give Lithuania a 56-55 lead.
But the Americans struck for the next seven points, two James layups sandwiched around a 3-pointer by reigning NBA scoring champion Durant within a 24-second span for a 62-56 US edge.
Anthony sank a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Americans a 33-25 lead after the first quarter, but Kleiza helped pull the Europeans within 55-51 at half-time.
Kleiza had 16 points in the first half while Anthony had 14 to lead the Americans.