ATHENS, Greece – The United States men's basketball team endured another brutal loss Saturday night. But because Angola is playing even worse than the Americans, the Dream Team (search ) is in the quarterfinals of the Athens Games (search).
Lithuanian guard Sarunas Jasikevicius, whose off-target 3-pointer kept his team from pulling off the biggest upset of the Sydney Olympics (search), didn't miss when it counted in a thrilling 94-90 victory against the United States.
Jasikevicius scored 28 points and hit three in a row from behind the arc as the fourth quarter wound down, including a rare four-point play that put his team ahead to stay.
"You know, Sydney was four years ago. The shot in Sydney, I keep saying, never had a chance to go in," Jasikevicius said. "It was really an impossible shot."
When he got another chance against the Americans, he took advantage, handing them their second loss of the Athens Games. The defeat matches the U.S. team's total from the country's first 68 years of Olympic competition and was only the second since the 1992 Dream Team brought the first pro players to the games.
But Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson and their teammates still qualified for the quarterfinals when Angola lost 88-56 to Greece in Saturday's nightcap. Their opponent will be determined by the results of Monday's games.
The Americans gave their best all-around performance of these Olympics and led for most of the game, but they missed 11 of 33 foul shots to allow Lithuania to stay close.
"We had kind of a meltdown in the fourth quarter," coach Larry Brown said. "We gave up over 90 points. You can't have a game like that defensively and expect to win against a quality team."
Lithuania went 10-for-10 from the line in the fourth quarter before Jasikevicius was fouled by Lamar Odom on a 3-pointer with 2:47 left, shooting a satisfied look Odom's way.
"I just looked at him because he was hollering and screaming before when he was playing defense," Jasikevicius said.
After a miss by Iverson, Jasikevicius made another long-range shot to make it 88-84.
Richard Jefferson answered with a 3, but Jasikevicius wasn't done. He made another 3-pointer to restore a four-point edge, and a turnover by Stephon Marbury was followed by a pair of foul shots by Jasikevicius to make it 93-87 with 57 seconds left.
Lithuania improved to 4-0, clinching the top spot in Group A and joining Spain as the only two unbeaten teams. Saulius Strombergas added 16 points and Ramunas Siskauskas had 14.
"This is, in a way, an incredible win, and in a way it doesn't mean anything," Jasikevicius said. "What does this mean if you don't win a medal? We beat the States. So what? We came here not to beat the States or any other team, we just came here to fight for the medal."
For Jasikevicius, the victory also brought him a measure of satisfaction against the American basketball establishment.
In a league filling up with foreigners, the NBA missed one who was right in their own back yard, playing at Maryland.
"I was a free agent in Europe, and it never came — any offers. They talked about they were interested, but there weren't even any minimum offers," Jasikevicius said. "So I think I'm just not a player for the NBA, because these guys know what they're doing.
"If 30 teams think a player cannot play, I cannot play."
Jefferson returned to the starting lineup and led the U.S. team with 20 points. Duncan added 16.
The Americans forced 20 turnovers and nearly doubled Lithuania's production on points in the paint, but it still wasn't good enough against an opponent with more experience playing together and more poise down the stretch.
"When we get to the medal round. Everybody is 0-0," Carlos Boozer said. "They had some big plays, the four-point play, the 3s, six straight free throws. At the end of the game it seemed like they were running the same play over and over again and we didn't adjust, we didn't switch.
"We're better than this," he added, "I totally believe we're getting better and we should have won this game."
The Americans found ways to penetrate the zone defense, using their own defense to create turnovers and generally looking as crisp as they have since coming together in training camp late last month.
The Lithuanians hit six of their first seven shots and nine of 12, but they committed 10 turnovers in the first quarter. Dwyane Wade's steal and dunk gave the U.S. team its first lead, 24-22, and three of Lithuania's top big men were in foul trouble before the second quarter began.
The Americans beat Lithuania on the boards, created high-tempo baskets with their defense and stayed ahead throughout the second and third quarters. Their missed free throws, however, kept them from pulling away.
Lithuania trailed just 69-67 after three quarters and tied it on the first possession of the fourth. Neither team led by more than two until Iverson hit a 15-footer, Jasikevicius missed a rushed 3-pointer and Iverson sank a 3 from the left wing to make it 79-75 with 4:55 left.
The lead grew to five, but Lithuania kept making free throws before Jasikevicius took over.
Lithuania assistant coach Donn Nelson watched the game from the stands. After Lithuania's close call against the United States in Sydney, he said he'd never coach another game against his home country.