LeBron James answered the challenge of the toughest Olympic opponent yet for the US NBA Dream Team, sparking a late rally to give the Americans a 99-94 victory over Lithuania and a quarter-final berth.
James scored nine of his 20 points in a crucial 12-2 US run late in the fourth quarter, taking the unbeaten multi-millionaire squad on his shoulders just as he did in the NBA Finals leading the Miami Heat to a title last June.
"He took the game over. He was terrific," US coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "He really made the plays that needed to be made in that last three minutes. To see him respond like that in this setting is one of the real positives from this game.
"For LeBron to just say, 'Look, I got it. I'm doing this' -- people talk with their bodies and actions and he did that. Basically he wouldn't give the ball up. I think he was saying that."
Only two nights after unleashing an Olympic record 156-point performance in a shooting practice of a victory over Nigeria, the Americans received a scare from a 1-3 Lithuanian side still fighting to secure a medal playoff berth.
"We had to defend after a historical game and then shoot the ball," James said. "We want to have a test game. We feel like any team can be beaten in this tournament and if you don't prepare and play the right way you can be beaten.
"Lithuania gave us a great game."
Carmelo Anthony also scored 20 points while Kevin Durant added 16 as the US NBA lineup rose to 58-1 since revamping the program after settling for bronze at the 2004 Olympics.
"Winning like we did was terrific for us," Krzyzewski said. "To be put in a position where every possession counted, we're usually not in those games. We had a lot of pressure on us and our guys came through."
Linas Kleiza, an NBA playmaker for Toronto, had 25 points to lead Lithuania.
"We tried to minimize turnovers and stop fast breaks and make them shoot contested shots over our hands. At the end they made some steals and got some fast breaks and some dunks," said Lithuanian starter Martynas Pocius.
"A loss is a loss but we played a really solid game against a really good team. I hope for our team that's a step forward."
Darius Songaila sank a jumper to pull Lithuania within 87-86 before James took charge, hitting a 3-pointer to start the spurt and a layup to end it in the dying seconds.
"He got into a good rhythm so we kept throwing to him," US guard Kobe Bryant said. "He had a complete mismatch on him and he kept attacking, getting to the basket and knocking down shots.
"Everybody pretty much kept a calm disposition and a level head. They obviously took advantage of some things that we needed to adjust."
That would be mainly on defence.
"We've got to do a better job of communicating defensively, talk more, we know that," US starting guard Chris Paul said. "You are always worried. We knew this was going to be a dogfight. Those guys played unbelievably hard. We will probably see them again."
When asked if curtailing practice time was a factor in the US struggle, the coach cited the toll of about 90 total NBA games over six months on James and fellow finalists Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
"There's a physical and mental and emotional price you pay for that," he said. "We've tried to pace them and make sure we're ready to sprint next week."