American men's basketball team gains relief against host country
Greece provided a scare before Lamar Odom and Carlos Boozer rescued the U.S.
ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Tim Duncan had fouled out, Allen Iverson was playing with a broken thumb, and Greece had just passed the ball inside with a chance to pull within two points with 18 seconds remaining.
Lamar Odom defended the play perfectly, holding his hand steady and high and getting a piece of Dimitris Pipanikoulaou's layup attempt. Odom, playing despite severe dehydration, rebounded the miss and made two free throws to lock up the U.S. team's 77-71 victory Tuesday night in its second game of the Olympics.
In a much closer contest than expected, the Americans bounced back from their embarrassing opening loss to Puerto Rico and avoided dropping to 0-2, which would have matched their loss total from the previous 68 years at the Summer Games.
"We wanted to play this one and get that out of our heads," Duncan said.
Securing a victory
The big plays down the stretch came from Odom and Carlos Boozer after Duncan fouled out and Iverson cooled off following a strong start. The Americans didn't have a great game, but that didn't matter much to them.
They needed a win and they got one.
The game was a spectacle in many ways, from U.S. coach Larry Brown angrily gesturing at the referees to the raucous Greek fans taunting the Americans with chants of "Puerto Rico," singing soccer fight songs and waving blue and white flags.
Close games for the Americans were rare in previous Olympics, but now it appears to be something the Americans should get used to.
Struggling again from the outside against another team playing a tightly packed zone defense, the U.S. team shot 4-for-21 from 3-point range, committed 19 turnovers, missed 13 free throws and failed to show the ability to pull away -- even against a mediocre opponent.
"Believe it or not, I think we'll make an outside shot someday," said Brown, who again expressed anger at his players for failing to accept the different roles he needs them to play.
Iverson scored 17 points, 13 of them in the first half, and Duncan had 13 of his 14 points in a third quarter in which he picked up three fouls, setting the stage for a tight fourth quarter.
The Americans led 64-61 when Duncan returned with 5:46 remaining, and 67-63 when he fouled out about two minutes later on a questionable loose-ball foul call that left him staring in disbelief and Brown pointing in anger at the official who called it.
Odom and Stephon Marbury scored inside to give the Americans some breathing room, though a drive by Antonis Fotsis made it a four-point game with 1:10 to go.
Boozer then came up with the Americans' biggest field goal of the night, rebounding Shawn Marion's missed 3-pointer from the corner and banking it in for a 74-68 lead.
A 3-pointer by Greece made it 75-71, and Boozer missed a pair of free throws to give Greece a chance to get within two.
Odom, however, wouldn't let it happen, and a turnover by Greece after Odom's free throws with 15.5 seconds remaining finally quieted the crowd and ended the suspense.
"That was the loudest arena I've ever been in," LeBron James said. "That was electrifying."
James had three fast-break dunks in the first five minutes of the second quarter as part of a 10-2 run that put the Americans ahead 29-19. James added a short bank shot on another fast break to increase the lead to 12, but Brown removed him for Iverson moments later, and Greece scored the next six points to trail just 37-31 at the half.