Despite being played on the opening day of the tournament, the Croatia-Lithuania game was tabbed months ago as the biggest of the preliminary round.
It lived up to its billing and then threw in an extra 10 minutes as Lithuania beat Croatia 83-81 in double overtime Saturday.
It was a matchup of the teams considered the best in Pool A behind the Dream Team. It was a matchup of some familiar NBA names and faces, with the winner getting a smoother road to the silver medal, with the gold a foregone conclusion.
"We wanted to be second in our pool, that's obvious," said Lithuania guard Sarunas Marciulionis of the Denver Nuggets. "It was a very big game to set the tone for the Olympics, and to not have to play the Dream Team in the semifinals."
The top four teams in each six-team pool advance to the quarterfinals; the team finishing right behind the United States can't face it again until the gold medal game.
Croatia's Toni Kukoc, of the NBA champion Chicago Bulls, felt the game was so significant he played with a broken left thumb, an injury to his shooting hand sustained less than two weeks ago in an exhibition game against Canada.
"It was such an important game for us. I thought we could finish second in our group and have such an easier road to the finals," said Kukoc, who finished with 33 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists.
"I wouldn't have played except it was important."
Lithuania had four players foul out and starting forward Arturas Karnishovas went out in the first overtime when he turned his right ankle grabbing a rebound. Croatia had five players foul out.
In other action, Yugoslavia closed with a 15-5 run and avoided the first upset of the men's tournament, beating Greece 71-63 despite former Laker Vlade Divac's foul trouble; Oscar Schmidt scored 45 points, including the winning three-point play, as Brazil beat Puerto Rico 101-98; former Seton Hall star Andrew Gaze scored 26 points as Australia downed South Korea 111-88; and Wang Zhi-Zhi had 17 points and 11 rebounds to lead China past Angola 70-67.