USA Basketball defeated, no gold or silver
With star center Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs) handcuffed with foul trouble most of the game, and the team struggling to find the range from the outside, the U.S. Olympic Men's Team (4-3) fell Friday night to Argentina (5-2) 89-81 in the Olympic semifinals. The loss eliminated the United States from gold medal contention and the American squad will close out the 2004 Summer Games in Saturday's (8:00 p.m. Athens time) bronze medal game against Lithuania (6-1), who fell 100-91 to Italy (5-2) in the other semifinal game. The gold medal clash will be between Argentina and Italy at 10:15 p.m. (Athens time).
"The difficulty we had is that the best player we have, probably the best player in the world, never had an opportunity to hurt Argentina. We're not the same team without Tim Duncan," said USA head coach Larry Brown. "If you ask most people in the world, they would say that he's as good as any player there is. They did a good job of taking things away from him. He got in foul trouble and that was critical. But I don't know if we could have beaten them if Timmy played 40 minutes. I would have liked to have that chance. They shot well and executed well and that's hard to beat in a 40-minute game.
"I think they (Argentina) executed great, made shots. When you execute well and make shots, it's very, very difficult," added Brown.
Getting four points from Duncan, the U.S. started strongly and grabbed a 9-5 lead with 6:39 left in the opening quarter. Duncan scored his eighth point of the quarter to push the U.S. out ahead 15-13 with 4:27 remaining, but an 11-5 run by Argentina saw them open a 24-20 advantage after the first quarter.
Following a Lamar Odom (Los Angeles Lakers) basket with 3:00 to play before halftime, the U.S. closed Argentina's advantage to two points, 35-33. Getting five points from Alejandro Montecchia, Argentina whipped off seven consecutive points to move ahead 42-33 and at halftime the U.S. lagged behind 43-38 after LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers) capped the quarter's scoring with a 3-pointer.
The damage to the U.S. gold medal hopes came during the first minutes of the third quarter. San Antonio Spurs and Argentina guard Emanuel Ginobili scored nine of his game high 29 points in the first 2:45 of the third period as Argentina went on a 13-2 tear to take control 56-40 with 7:15 left in period three.
The Americans did not fold and battled back after posting an 11-2 offensive run that saw the deficit cut to 58-51 when Allen Iverson (Philadelphia 76ers) connected on a 3-pointer with 3:45 to play in the quarter. But Argentina pushed away the USA comeback effort, and getting five points from Ginobili finished the third quarter with a 12-6 scoring run to take a 70-57 lead in the final 10 minutes.
Trailing 76-65 with 5:00 to play, the U.S. comeback effort was dealt a blow when Duncan was whistled for his fifth personal foul. The U.S. continued to battle, but each USA effort to cut the gap below eight was turned back and Argentina persevered for the 89-81 win and trip to the gold medal game.
"There were a lot of keys to the game for them," Shawn Marion (Phoenix Suns) said. "They took Tim (Duncan) right out of the game...he really got some tough calls and he's the biggest man on our team and one of the best players on the planet...it was hard for him to do anything when he couldn't get out on the court. Argentina really nailed some huge shots and we never could get going offensively."
Stephon Marbury (New York Knicks) headed the American's offensive effort scoring 18 points, while Odom finished with 14 points and eight rebounds, Iverson tossed in 10 points, and Duncan had 10 points and six rebounds and was limited to just 19:37 of playing time. Marion was credtied with nine points and five boards, and Carlos Boozer (Utah Jazz) led the USA to a 36-32 edge on the glass with nine rebounds, and added eight points.
Argentina's victorious cause was led by Ginobili's 29 points, Andres Nicioni accounted for 13 points, while Montecchia added 12.
The U.S. for the night shot just 41.6 percent from the field and was 3-of-11 (.273 percent) from 3-point. Argentina made 32-of-59 shots for 54.2 percent, and was 11-of-22 from 3-point.
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 113-5 win-loss record in Olympic play for a .958 winning percentage. USA Olympic teams featuring NBA players are 28-3 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).