USA beats Spain, reaches semifinals
Behind guard Stephon Marbury's (New York Knicks) U.S. Olympic record 31 points and record six made 3-pointers, the U.S. Olympic Men's Basketball Team (4-2) battled its way to a 102-94 victory over No. 1 seed and previously unbeaten Spain (5-1) Thursday afternoon in Athens. With the win, the USA moves on to the medal round semifinals on Friday (game time TBA) and will face the winner of tonight's Argentina-Greece game (10:15 p.m. Athens local time).
In Thursday's other afternoon quarterfinal contest, Lithuania improved to 6-0 with a 95-75 victory over China (2-4). The evening's quarterfinal games feature Italy (3-2) versus Puerto Rico (3-2) and Argentina (3-2) meets host Greece (3-2) in the night's final game.
With center Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs) and Lamar Odom (Los Angeles Lakers) in foul trouble much of the game, the U.S. relied on point production from its outside shooting to earn the critical win.
Entering the quarterfinal contest shooting as a team 46.0 percent overall and just 23.6 percent from 3-point, the U.S. shooting warmed to 50.7 percent from the field for the game and the U.S. made 12-of-22 3-pointers (.545 percent).
Marbury, who likewise entered the game in a shooting slump having made just 6-of-30 shots overall and 2-of-16 (12.5 percent) from afar, shot 10-of-15 from the floor and dropped 6-of-9 3-point shots versus Spain.
"This afternoon we came out and played with a lot of emotion. Guys are well aware of how we've been playing from the beginning of the Olympics. Guys' mind-sets are that if we don't come out and we don't play from the jump, these teams are so good, we're not going to give ourselves the opportunity to win," Marbury stated. "We wanted to go out and attack on the defensive end. We knew that Pau Gasol was going to have a big game because he's their guy and they go to him a lot. Our main concern was playing with a lot of energy and a lot of effort."
"It was a great game. We were able to keep the lead in the first half with some severe foul trouble. Most of the game we were in foul trouble, but I think a lot has to do with the way they drove the lane and got the ball inside," said USA and Detroit Pistons head coach Larry Brown. "Under the circumstances we shot the ball, moved the ball better, only had eight turnovers and that's been a big problem for us throughout the tournament.
"This was a great team we played against. (Pau) Gasol was incredible. They hurt us on dribble-penetration. But for the most part, taking care of the ball and generally taking good shots, having our bench help us when Timmy (Duncan) and Lamar (Odom) were in foul trouble, got us through today."
Tied 25-25 after the first quarter, Marbury accounted for six points as the U.S. opened up a nine-point lead, 38-29, with 5:14 to play in the second quarter after outscoring Spain 13-4. Spain marched right back and reeled off 11 straight points to take te lead 40-38 with 1:42 left before half, but the U.S. closed out the half with a 6-3 run to take a 44-43 lead to the locker room.
Although the U.S. would grab a 63-56 lead with 3:28 left in the third quarter, Spain again fought back to tie the score at 63 all. But the U.S. again closed out the quarter strong and outscored Spain 11-4 to grab control 74-67 with one quarter to go.
Holding an 82-78 lead with 4:20 remaining in the contest, Marbury made a critical steal and then drained his sixth 3-pointer of the day. Duncan added a tip-in, and following a Carlos Boozer (Utah Jazz) basket at 2:41, the U.S. advantage increased to 89-78.
Spain cut the gap to five, 91-86, with 1:55 to play, but Marbury scored off a drive with 1:34 to play and following two free throws from Boozer and two more from Shawn Marion (Phoenix Suns) the U.S. lead was back to 11 and Spain's hopes of upending the Americans were done.
In addition to Marbury's record offensive explosion, which also saw him hand out four assists and make two steals, the USA got 16 points from Allen Iverson (Philadelphia 76ers), who made 3-of-8 3-pointers, while Boozer finished with 12 points, and Odom added 11 points six rebounds. Duncan, playing just under 21 minutes, recorded nine points and four rebounds, and Marion also turned in a solid effort, adding eight points and six boards.
Memphis Grizzlies forward Pau Gasol led Spain's attack with 29 points, while Juan Carlos Navarro added 17 points.
"He (Marbury) was great. He took the game over from start to finish. He just took it over. There isn't much else to say except that," commented Duncan. "He shot the ball very well, extended the zone, got them out to where they had to play man-to-man. I thought he did a great job of moving the ball. He shot the ball very well, very confident. I know he came in and worked out yesterday on our day off, trying to get himself ready for this and he was prepared to play the game."
Marbury's 31 points surpassed the previous U.S. Olympic Men's single game record of 30 points that was set by Charles Barkley (vs. Brazil, 7/31/92) and Adrian Dantley (vs. Yugoslavia, 7/27/76). Marbury's six made 3-pointers also improved the previous U.S. record for made 3-pointers, which was five by Reggie Miller (vs. China, 7/26/96). The USA's 12 made 3-pointers tied the U.S. single game mark which was done in two previous games (vs. China, 7/26/96, and vs. Puerto Rico, 8/4/92).
The 2004 Olympic men's basketball competition is being held Aug. 15-28 in Athens. The United States men are the three-time defending Olympic champions.
Brown, who has won a gold medal as a player at the 1964 Olympics and as an assistant coach at the 2000 Olympics, and who most recently led the Detroit Pistons to the 2004 NBA title, is head coach of the 2004 USA Basketball Men's Senior National Team and will draw on his recent international head coaching experiences that saw him lead USA teams in 1999 and 2003 to 10-0 records and Olympic qualifying berths. Assisting Brown on the USA bench is San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, who owns a pair of NBA championships (1999 and 2003), and a pair of very successful collegiate head mentors in Clemson University's (S.C.) Oliver Purnell and University of North Carolina's Roy Williams.
The U.S. men, gold medalists in 12 of the 14 Olympics in which it has participated, now own a remarkable 113-4 win-loss record in Olympic play for a .966 winning percentage. USA Olympic teams featuring NBA players are 28-2 since making their first appearance at the 1992 Olympics and the U.S. has won the last three Olympic titles when NBA players have participated (1992, 1996, and 2000).