After slow start, U.S. turns back Puerto Rico

Sunday, August 20, 2006

SAPPORO, Japan -- Puerto Rico was scoring so easily against the United States, maybe the Americans should have considered playing 6-against-5.

Actually, they tried that, too.

The U.S. eventually overcame a slow start that included a strange sequence in which Carmelo Anthony inbounded the ball despite being out of the game, settling down to beat Puerto Rico 111-100 on Saturday in the opening game of Group D in the world championships.

Anthony led the U.S. with 21 points. LeBron James and Kirk Hinrich each added 15 for the Americans, who found things to be much tougher than they were during a 45-point rout in an exhibition game at Las Vegas earlier this month.

"We got a slow start, but we picked it up in the second half," James said. "We were able to keep them in front of us and we got a win. It doesn't matter how many points you win by, as long as you get a win."

Carlos Arroyo of the Orlando Magic scored 23 points for Puerto Rico, which looked capable for much of the first half of a second straight major upset of the United States in international play. The Puerto Ricans shocked the Americans 92-73 in the opening game of the Olympics two years ago in Athens.

Anthony, James and Dwyane Wade -- the three U.S. captain -- were there for that loss, which sent the Americans on their way to a disappointing third-place finish.

"Now I'm kind of one of the leaders of this team along with Dwyane Wade and LeBron, so I've got to go out there and do what I have to do to pick this team up any way possible," Anthony said.

Apparently, that includes trying to make a play even when he's not in the game.

Anthony was the central figure in the game's most bizarre sequence, which led to a technical foul on the Americans. After picking up two quick fouls, he went to the bench, but chose to stand in front of his chair instead of sitting.

When a ball went out of bounds near the U.S. bench, both the nearest referee and U.S. guard Kirk Hinrich didn't seem to realize Anthony wasn't in the game. So the official handed the ball to Anthony, the closest player to him, and with no other U.S. players coming back for it, Anthony simply passed it in, giving new meaning to the term "sixth man."

The ref eventually figured it out when Anthony didn't run up the court with the rest of the players, and a technical foul was called. Arroyo hit both free throws to tie the game at 17-17, and an irate coach Mike Krzyzewski loudly scolded his players sitting on the bench.

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