Playbook won't be Greek to U.S.

Wanting revenge, Americans focus on stopping pick-and-roll

In the spotlight today Men's basketball

Beijing 2008

August 14, 2008|By Los Angeles Times

BEIJING - Greece, Greece, Greece ... isn't that name familiar from somewhere?

Birthplace of Western civilization? The Acropolis? The Parthenon? The plays of Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus? The Iliad? The Odyssey?

Wait, wasn't it Greece that knocked off U.S. Coach Mike Krzyzewski's first team at the world championships in Saitama, Japan, in 2006?

That's it!

Let's have a big U.S. welcome for the Greeks!

"First of all, we've been waiting for this game for the last two years," said Carmelo Anthony (Towson Catholic) - one of five players in that game with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh - of today's rematch.

"I'm pretty sure I'm sick and tired and they are sick and tired of hearing about Greece. But we just got to approach it as another game, another team that's in our way for the gold medal."

This is perhaps the third-most devastating defeat in U.S. Olympic history, after the Americans' first two to the Soviet Union at Munich in 1972 and Seoul in 1988.

The 2004 team went 5-3 in Athens, but it was such a train wreck, opening with a 92-73 defeat against Puerto Rico, THAT none of those losses stood out.

Two years later, however, with a new program run by Krzyzewski and former Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo specifying three-year commitments and plenty of time to prepare, the U.S. sailed into the semifinals of the world championships 7-0, despite some close calls, notably a 94-85 victory over Italy in which the Americans trailed by 12 points in the third quarter.

Still, no one was ready for what happened against Greece, considered just one of several good European teams.

The U.S. led by 12 early, fell behind, then came apart at the end as Greece scored on pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll, most run by guard Vassilis Spanoulis and center Sofoklis Schortsianitis.

"I remember that we missed a ton of free throws [14 of their 34]," Anthony said. "And the pick-and-roll game, we couldn't adjust to the pick-and-roll game. By the time we adjusted, the game was over.

"I was stunned. If you can see the footage from that game, I didn't want to get off the court after the game."

U.S. scout Tony Ronzone, the Detroit Pistons' player-personnel director in his day job, broke the video down and counted 42 pick-and-rolls.

"How many did they score on?" he was asked.

"I don't want to know that stat," Ronzone said.

Although it was a hard way to learn how to defend that play, the U.S. has.

This U.S. team, which is relatively small by U.S. standards, is also exceptionally athletic with big men like Howard and Bosh nimble enough to get out on shooters.

In an exhibition with Lithuania, another U.S. nemesis, the U.S. shut that vaunted pick-and-roll game down completely with Kobe Bryant hounding guard Sarunas Jasikevicius.

The U.S. hasn't shut anyone down here in ho-hum victories over China and Angola, so it'll be good to see their old friends from Greece, the U.S. players hope.

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