You’d be forgiven if, after watching the United States’ men’s basketball team beat the overwhelmed Nigerian squad 156-73, you assumed that the U.S. was invincible. Nigeria’s ineffectiveness aside, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and company were nearly flawless in their execution, shooting 71% from the field and 63% from 3-point range and racking up 41 assists to 7 turnovers — an insane 6:1 ratio.
But today against Lithuania, the team came back down to Earth. The U.S. won by a mere five points, 99-94, with Lithuania actually leading as late as four minutes into the fourth quarter. And statistically, the U.S. was in many ways outplayed, with Lithuania outshooting the Americans 59% to 44% and 44% to 30% from three. (What did them in were turnovers, committing a gross 23 vs. 9 by the U.S.)
So. Lithuania. Who are these guys?
Lithuania’s best player today, by a significant margin, was forward Linas Kleiza. Kleiza plays in the NBA, and is on the Toronto Raptors’ books next season for $4.6 million. After an impressive sophomore year at the University of Missouri, during which he averaged 16.1 points and 7.6 rebounds, Kleiza went 27th overall in the 2005 NBA Draft, and he’s had a mediocre career since, with averages of 8.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, and a 12.6 PER over six seasons.
Regardless of his performances stateside, though, he’s been a beast in London. Kleiza scored 25 points on 20 shots against the U.S., along with five rebounds, and in his previous games he dropped 17, 11, and 20.
If you’re a dedicated college-basketball acolyte — or a Duke fan — you might remember Marty Pocius, who played for four years for Coach K in Durham, scoring a grand total of 142 points. Despite being a reserve in college, Pocius has made a nice career for himself in Europe; he currently plays for Real Madrid, and he helped lead Lithuania to a 2010 FIBA bronze medal in his debut tournament with the national team. Against the U.S. and his former coach, Pocius put up a well-rounded 14 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and only one turnover, and he scored 15 in Lithuania’s loss to France.
Songaila’s another former ACC guy, having spent four years at Wake Forest. He went 49th in the 2002 Draft and has played seven season for six different teams in the NBA, though he’s been out of the league since early 2011. Since then, he’s played for Galatasaray in Turkey and Blancos de Rueda Valladolid in Spain. Against the U.S., he scored 11 points on only six shots, and he put up 12 against Nigeria and 11 against Argentina earlier in the Olympics.
Jasikevicius is Lithuania’s 36-year-old point guard, and he went for 8 points and 6 assists, with 6 turnovers, against the U.S. Currently with Barcelona, Jasikevicius debuted for Lithuania in 1997; he also played 138 games over two seasons in the NBA from 2005-2007. At one point, he was married to a winner of Miss World, but that appears to be no more.
Valanciunas was selected 5th overall by the Toronto Raptors in 2011; he’s expected to make his NBA debut in 2012-13. Meanwhile, he’s been playing for Lietuvos Rytas in the Lithuanian domestic league. Despite being only 20 years old, he’s already won a Lithuanian Player of the Year award, but his first Olympics has been a non-event: over four games, he’s played only 41 minutes.
Renaldas Seibutis plays guard for Lietuvos Rytas and, though he was drafted 50th overall in 2007, has never cracked an NBA roster. He scored 8 points in 12 minutes against the U.S.
Simas Jasaitis plays forward for Russian squad Lokomotiv Kuban. He scored 5 points and grabbed 6 rebounds in 29 minutes against the U.S, and he’s played 20 minutes or more in all four of Lithuania’s Olympic games.
Mantas Kalnietis plays guard for Zalgiris in the Lithuanian Basketball League. Kalnietis has been terrible in the Olympics so far, shooting a combined 5-20 before being moved out of the starting lineup prior to today’s game in favor of Jasikevicius. Sure enough, he had a dreadful game against the U.S., with 2 points, 3 assists, and 3 rebounds against 7 turnovers.
Paulius Jankunas plays forward for Zalgiris as well. He went for 9 points on 5 shots against the U.S., adding 3 rebounds.
Antanas Kavaliauskas plays forward/center for Lithuanian club VEF Riga. He played two seasons for Texas A&M and, with Acie Law, helped lead the team to the Sweet 16 in 2007. He scored 6 points in only 8 minutes against the U.S.
To recap: Two NBA bench players, a former Duke reserve, a Texas A&M star, a 20-year-old prospect, and five European-club lifers almost beat the mighty United States.