USA Soars Past Greece 92-69, Secures Quarterfinal Berth
Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers) and Chris Bosh (Toronto Raptors) led the way with 18 points each; followed by 17 points, six steals and five assists from Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat); and 13 points, six rebounds and six assists from LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers).
'(Greece plays basketball) the right way,' said USA and Duke University head coach Mike Krzyzewski. 'They play hard, they play together and they're a difficult team to beat, and they were tonight. They missed some shots but we played very good defense and they played good defense. So, it was tough to get shots. We're proud of our effort. I thought we played one of the best teams in the tournament tonight.'
Up by just four points after the first quarter, the USA outscored Greece 31-16 in the second period to take a 19-point lead at halftime and deflate any hopes Greece had of a second win over the USA in as many years. The last time the two teams met, Greece stunned the U.S. with a 101-96 victory in the semifinals of the 2006 FIBA World Championship.
'We knew if we got into them early, picked them up full court, we would kind of wear them down,' said Bosh. 'In 2006 we just let them run their stuff, so we wanted to extend our defense and make them run their offense about 30 or 35 feet away from the basket.'
In the game's first 20 minutes, the USA held Greece to 0-of-7 shooting from 3-point, outrebounded its opponent 23-14, forced 13 turnovers and tallied 16 fast break points to build a 19-point lead.
'This was a big game for us. We had this game circled for a long time once we found out what the groups were,' said Chris Paul (New Orleans Hornets), who played over 25 minutes of hawking defense while recording four points, three assists and two steals. 'Greece is a very good team; they beat us in '06. There were a few of us on this team that felt like we needed this game to prove to ourselves that we mean business and we're ready to win this gold medal.'
Down 13-9 with 4:06 remaining in the first period, the USA put together its first crowd-pleasing run of the night with a 6-0 spurt that included a dunk from James, a fast break bucket from Paul and another slam, this time from Bryant to help the USA regain the lead, 15-13 at 2:26. From there, Wade tallied the red, white and blue's final five points in the first quarter and the score was 20-16 at the first break.
The USA carried its momentum through to the second period, which it opened with another of the night's spectacular highlights. Falling out of bounds to collect a stolen possession, Wade lobbed the ball to the rim where Bryant was waiting to throw down the alley-oop. Greece's Ioannis Baourousis next managed to get inside for a two-handed jam at 9:10, but the bucket didn't slow the American offense. Howard's dunk at 8:59 was followed by a soaring one-handed slam from James, and the score stood 26-18 at 8:45.
The USA and Greece traded points over the next five minutes, and the lead reached 10, 38-28, after James skied to collect and throw down a Carmelo Anthony (Denver Nuggets) miss, prompting a timeout from the Greek bench at 3:45. Greece scored two points after the 60-second intermission, but a deep 3-pointer from Bryant again launched a U.S. onslaught, this time a 13-4 run that featured two 3-point plays from Bosh and four points, including a reverse dunk, from James. With Deron Williams (Utah Jazz) blocking Greece's last shot attempt at the halftime buzzer, the U.S. headed to the locker room fully in charge, 51-32.
Greece nearly kept pace with the USA in the third period and came as close at 16 points after two Vasileios Spanoulis free throws cut the U.S. advantage to 65-49 at 3:48. Seven third quarter points from both Wade and Bryant, however, helped the USA thwart any Greek comeback attempt, and with the USA outscoring Greece 23-22 in the stanza the score was 74-54 headed into the final 10 minutes.
The fourth period was the same story as the U.S. tallied 18 points to Greece's 15 to improve its advantage by three and bring the final tally to 92-69 as the final buzzer sounded.
'Chris Bosh was terrific,' Bryant said. 'He always seems to find himself in the right place at the right time and when we penetrate he's able to find a little crack or seam and be able to finish. And defensively he did a great job on the pick and roll and stopping their guards from penetrating. He was getting steals and we converted them into easy points. He did a fantastic job.'
Overall, Greece shot just 22.0 percent from behind the arc (4-18 3pt FGs) and committed 25 turnovers, while the USA dished 23 assists on 36 made baskets and shot 54.0 percent from the field (36-67 FGs). The only blemish for the USA on the night was its foul shooting as the U.S. made just 13-of-23 attempts for an icy 57.0 percent.
In Tuesday's other games, Group A saw Australia (1-2) cruise past Iran (0-3) 106-68, with Brad Newley recording a game-high 24 points; Lithuania (3-0) survived Russia (1-2) 86-79 led by 20 points from Rimantas Kaukenas and three additional scorers in double figures; and Argentina (2-1) easily handled Croatia (2-1) 77-53 as Andres Nocioni finished with 18 points.
In Group B competition, Spain (3-0) featured three players in double digits to top Germany (1-2) 72-59, including Jose Calderon with 15 points, Alex Mumbru with 14 points and Paul Gasol with 13 points; while 10-of-11 shooting and 30 points from Yao Ming propelled China (1-2) past Angola (0-3) 85-68.
Olympic men's basketball preliminary round action is being contested through Aug. 18. The U.S. continues preliminary play against 2006 FIBA World Champion Spain on Aug. 16 at 10:15 p.m.; and closes out preliminary play Aug. 18 at 8:00 p.m. against Germany, third place finisher at the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
The men's Olympic quarterfinals action takes place Aug. 20, semifinals play is slated for Aug. 22 and the Olympic men's gold and bronze medal games will be held Aug. 24.
Serving as 2008 USA Basketball Men's Senior National Team assistant coaches are Syracuse University and Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim, New York Knicks head mentor Mike D'Antoni and Portland Trail Blazers head coach Nate McMillan.