Olympics: USA beats Australia
For three quarters the U.S. Men's Olympic Team (2-1) chased Australia (1-2) and still heading into the final 10 minutes the Americans trailed 67-65. Stepping up its defense, the U.S. reeled off 10 consecutive points to take control of the game and went on to outscore the Aussies 24-12 in the fourth quarter to earn an 89-79 victory Thursday afternoon in Athens.
The U.S. will face another stiff challenge when it takes on 2000 Olympic bronze medalist and undefeated Lithuania in a 1 p.m. (EDT) game.
"For our team to be successful, we have to play hard on defense," said LeBron James after accounting for eight points and five assists in 18 minutes. "I told you that the other day when we lost, we didn't stop people and we didn't make shots. And then the other night against Greece we still didn't make shots, but we stopped them down the stretch. That's what this team is about, we stop people. We're the most athletic team in this whole tournament. We should be able to get out there and make some easy buckets."
"The second half I thought we defended a lot better. They shot 60 percent in the first half and I thought they had a lot of open looks," U.S. head coach Larry Brown stated. "Again, like the Puerto Rico game, we had trouble keeping people in front of us on the perimeter and it got some people in foul trouble.
In the second half we did much better job of keeping people in front and contesting shots. Like LeBron (James) said, we got out on the break. The most important thing is that we continue to struggle from the outside, but we got the ball inside better. Even though we talked about it every trip down the court, tonight was the first night I think we honestly did it when we really needed to.
The two teams battled evenly for the game's first 7:50 and after Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat) made both free throws with 1:50 to go in the opening quarter, Australia held a 21-18 advantage. Australia's Brett Maher made a pair of 3-pointers to power a 10-3 surge by Australia and when the first period came to a close they led 31-21. Australia's shooting in the first period was on fire, as the Aussies made 70.5 percent of its shots (12-17 FGs), including a sizzling 6-of-8 from 3-point.
The two teams made hearty runs at each other in the second quarter. Opening with a 10-4 run, the U.S. cut the gap to 35-31. Australia, behind another pair of 3-pointers countered with a 10-2 rally to push its advantage to 45-33 with 4:45 remaining before half.
Behind Allen Iverson's (Philadelphia 76ers) pair of 3-pointers and eight points, the U.S. closed the half with a 14-6 offensive push that left the score at halftime 51-47. The Aussies shooting didn't cool much in the second quarter and they finished the first 20 minutes hitting 63.3 percent (19-30 FGs) of its shots, and had made 8-of-12 tries from beyond the 3-point line. The USA shooting in the first half was also warm. The Americans shot 57.1 percent (20-35 FGs) from the floor.
The Australians continued to score and with 8:23 to go in the third, led 58-49. Going inside to Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs), the U.S. went on a 14-2 run that featured eight consecutive points, and Duncan accounted for six of the points during the run.
The run was capped when Shawn Marion (Phoenix Suns) took a perfect pass from Iverson for a thundering dunk, and the USA took the lead 61-60 with 4:43 left in the third. Following Iverson and Wade basket, the U.S. had a 65-62 lead, but Australia finished the quarter off with five points to take a 67-65 lead into the final quarter.
Starting the final stanza with Carlos Boozer (Utah Jazz), Duncan, LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers), Marion and Wade, the five made Australia earn any points they got. The defensive effort paid off. While Australia was able to make just one of its first eight shots in the final quarter, the U.S. scored on five of its first six possessions and posted 10 straight points with each of the five baskets coming from a different player and the Americans opened up a 75-67 lead.
Australia's CJ Bruton added another 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 75-70 with 6:31 to play, but Duncan and Lamar Odom (Los Angeles Lakers) scored to give the U.S. a 79-70 lead and after a hoop from the Aussies David Anderson, the advantage stood at 79-72 with 4:43 to go.
The USA continued its relentless defense and running, and with Marion and James each scoring four points, the U.S. sealed the victory by running off eight consecutive points to take an 87-72 lead with 1:49 remaining.
"Tonight was a total team effort. I think we did a great job. We are starting to defend and defense is what is going to win these games," said Duncan.
The U.S. shot 70.5 percent in the final quarter, making 12-of-17 shots, while Australia's shooting chilled all the way down to 31.3 percent (5-16 FGs), including 3-for-9 from 3-point.
Duncan posted his second double-double in three Olympic games, recording 18 points on deadly 7-of-11 shooting, and grabbing 11 rebounds. Iverson, playing with a fractured right thumb, and Marion, who hit 8-of-10 shots, each tallied 16 points, with Marion added eight rebounds. Wade was the only other U.S. player to finish in double digits, scoring 12 points.
"I think we're coming together as a team" offered Marion. "When we play defense, it's hard to score baskets. When you play defense, you can create some easy offense and easy baskets."
In Thursday's earlier play, New Zealand (1-2) stormed back late in the game to upset Serbia & Montenegro (1-2) 90-87, Paul Gasol scored 16 points to help keep Spain (3-0) undefeated with a 71-63 win over Italy (1-2), and Puerto Rico (2-1) managed an 83-80 decision over Angola (0-3). The night games feature Argentina (1-1) taking on China (1-1), and host Greece (1-1) meets 2-0 Lithuania.