Olympics: USA edges Greece
Getting 17 points from Allen Iverson (Philadelphia 76ers) and 14 from Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs), the U.S. Olympic Men's Basketball Team (1-1) earned its first victory of the 2004 Summer Games showing energy and determination, while coming up with key defensive stops and big plays as the USA contingent held off a determined host Greek team (1-1) 77-71 Tuesday night in Athens, Greece.
The USA overcame some adversity as well Tuesday night. Iverson, the USA's starting point guard, played despite a non-displaced fracture of the right thumb that was suffered during the USA's game Sunday against Puerto Rico. Additionally, starting forward Lamar Odom (Los Angeles Lakers) missed the team's morning shoot-around because of stomach virus that left him weak for the game.
The USA men will continue their preliminary play in the 2004 Olympics on Thursday, Aug. 19 against Australia (1-1) at 2:30 p.m. (all times listed are Athens local times), then meets Lithuania on Saturday, Aug. 21 (8 p.m.), and the U.S. concludes its preliminary play facing Angola on Monday, Aug. 23 (2:30 p.m.). Quarterfinals play is slated for Thursday, Aug. 26, with semifinals action being held on Friday, Aug. 27 and the final games to determine first through eight places are slated to be played on Saturday, Aug. 28.
"We played with a lot more energy tonight than we did against Puerto Rico and that was the difference," said USA and Detroit Pistons head coach Larry Brown. "We defended, got loose balls, and then our bench, some of our young kids came through. LeBron (James) gave us a big lift, (Amare) Stoudemire gave us a lift, Carlos Boozer, especially with the foul trouble we were in. It's pretty tough to play when you haven't played these rules and you're not use to the way the game's being called. Timmy (Duncan) had some difficult calls against him, but we hung in."
Although the U.S. threatened several times to blow the game wide open, it never quite got over the hump and Greece each time battled back to make it a game. The first quarter ended with the American squad ahead 18-17. LeBron James scored eight points in the span of four minutes in the second quarter as the U.S. took control 31-19 with 4:21 remaining before half.
But Greece would not give in and slowly chipped away at the lead and at halftime had pulled within six, 37-31. Outscoring the U.S. 9-2 to open the third quarter, Greece took a 40-39 lead with 7:30 to play in quarter three. With Duncan scoring seven points, the U.S. went on a 16-4 run to grab control 55-44 with 3:08 to play in the quarter, but Greece again refused to fold, and countered with a 9-2 run to close the gap to 57-53.
Taking its four-point lead into the final 10 minutes, the U.S., after scoring the quarter's first five points, opened up a 62-53 lead to create some breathing room. But Greece hit a pair of 3-pointers and mounted an 8-0 run to cut the lead to a single point, 62-61, with 6:21 to play.
Dwayne Wade (Miami Heat) scored on a strong drive to the basket to kick off a 9-2 offensive push by the U.S. and after Stephon Marbury (New York Knicks) capped the run with a driving basket with 2:34 remaining, the USA seemed to have things in hand leading 71-63.
But Michal Kakiouzis dropped in a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 71-66 and after Marion made one of two free throws, Greece veteran Ansatonios Fotsis added a baseline drive to cut the gap back to four, 72-68 with 1:12 left.
Shawn Marion (Phoenix Suns) missed a 3-pointer on the other end, but Carlos Boozer (Utah Jazz) came up with the offensive rebound and scored with 49 seconds left to up the advantage to 74-68. After turning the ball over, Greece was forced to foul and after Boozer made the front end of two foul shots to make the score 75-68, Greece made one final run as Nikolaos Chatzivrettas sank a 3-pointer with 28.3 seconds to play to cut the lead to 75-71. Boozer missed a pair of free throws with 28 seconds showing, and Greece went inside looking to cut the gap to two. Dimitris Papanikolaou went strong to the basket looking for two and a foul, but Odom made the defensive stop of the game when he partially blocked Papanikolaou's shot, grabbed the ball and was fouled. With 15.8 second remaining, Odom calmly sank both charity tries to give the USA the 77-71 decision.
"That's amazing," remarked Odom's teammate LeBron James. "He's a tough guy. He's a leader. He showed up there tonight coming out there with a stomach illness and dehydration. You could see it on his face that he didn't have a lot of energy, but he played hard for us and helped us get a victory."
Iverson, despite playing with the fractured thumb, finished with 17 points, while Tim Duncan, despite being in foul trouble much of the second half, compiled 14 points and nine rebounds, while LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers) made 5-of-6 shots and finished with 10 points. Odom played almost 28 minutes and finished with seven points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots. Fotsis led the Greek squad with a game best 22 points.
The USA's shooting was again off target. Making just 40.3 percent (27-67 FGs), including 4-of-21 from 3-point, the U.S. defense limited Greece to 44.2 percent shooting, while forcing the Greeks into 22 turnovers. The U.S. also a 42-28 advantage in rebounding.
In action Tuesday, Houston Rocket center Yao Ming carried China (1-1) to a 69-62 win over New Zealand (0-2) recording 35 points (15-20 FGs) and 11 rebounds; Australia (1-1) pounded Angola (0-2) 83-59; Lithuania (2-0) knocked aside Puerto Rico (1-1) 98-90, Serbia & Montenegro (1-1) narrowly upended Italy (1-1) 74-72, while Spain (2-0), aided by Pau Gasol's (Memphis Grizzlies) 26 points, rallied past Argentina (1-1) 87-76.