U.S. makes amends, holds off Greek hosts

As reality replaces dream, players overcome injury, illness, crowd to win, 77-71

Men's Basketball

Athens 2004


ATHENS - The Greeks went nuts, waving their blue-and-white flags, chanting, "Hellas! Hellas!" and jumping up and down in unison. But to the veteran NBA players on the U.S. roster, last night's was just another hostile crowd.

"It's like playing Boston in the playoffs. It's like playing New York in the playoffs," Richard Jefferson said. "It's something we've been through a million times."

Two days after an embarrassing loss to Puerto Rico, the U.S. men handled Greece's overmatched national team last night, beating the plucky Greeks, 77-71, before a packed house at the Helliniko Indoor Arena.

With Allen Iverson playing with a right thumb that was broken Sunday and Lamar Odom suffering from bacteria in his stomach, the Americans avoided disaster, at least for one night. Although the Americans were happy to win a game at the Olympics, everyone who watched it understands the U.S. team is not the dominant force it was in Barcelona in 1992.

This team is suspect from the perimeter. The players have little cohesion. They make plenty of mistakes. And they will be in trouble the next time they face a team with an aggressive zone defense and spot-up shooters.

In fact, the Americans were in trouble last night, for a while. After missing seven of their first nine shots, the U.S. players led Greece by one point after the first quarter. They blew a six-point halftime lead, allowing Greece to retake the lead, 40-39, to the delight of the partisan crowd.

Although they pushed their lead back to 11 points later in the third, the Americans went cold in the fourth quarter, and when Michaeil Kakiouzis made a three-pointer to cut the Americans' lead to 62-61, the fans were so loud, you could hardly hear yourself speak.

"We had a chance to bury them," coach Larry Brown said, "but sometimes I think we're trying to entertain instead of trying to play."

The United States got a huge lift down the stretch from its bench. Dwyane Wade, Shawn Marion and Carlos Boozer helped push the U.S. lead to six points, and the Americans were able to hold on to notch their first win of these Olympics.

In nearly 30 minutes, Iverson finished with a team-high 17 points and Tim Duncan had 14.

After shooting just 34.7 percent against Puerto Rico, the U.S. team missed 40 of 67 shots last night. Jefferson was 0-for-7. Former Towson Catholic standout Carmelo Anthony logged just five minutes, jacked up a shot the first time he touched the ball, and clearly remains in Brown's doghouse.

Australia is up next, tomorrow.

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