U.S. regains luster with convincing win

Sunday, August 8, 2004

The U.S. Olympic men's basketball squad rolled to a 78-60 victory over Serbia-Montenegro.

By Chris Sheridan ~ The Associated Press

BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro -- The U.S. Olympic men's basketball team did Larry Brown proud.

Following his mantra of "playing the right way," they dominated the defending world champions with defense in an impressive 78-60 exhibition victory over Serbia-Montenegro on Friday night.

The Americans took a partisan crowd out of the game by holding Serbia-Montenegro to just nine points in the second quarter, and their defense never relented. They showed none of the faults that hampered them in earlier games against Italy and Germany while shutting down an opponent that appeared equal parts overconfident and incompetent.

Tim Duncan led the U.S. team with 16 points, LeBron James added 11 and the entire team played with a level of determination that should go a long way toward re-establishing them as one of the favorites for the gold medal in Athens.

When the evening began, they weren't even picked to win the game. Local betting parlors listed the Serbian team as a four-point favorite.

"We are the team that everyone wants to play their best basketball against," Lamar Odom said. "We're playing for a lot, and it means a lot to us."

The U.S. team went 14-for-14 from the free throw line and 30-of-60 from the field, while holding the Serbian team to 35 percent shooting overall and 1-for-14 accuracy from 3-point range.

A 14-0 run to begin the second quarter put the Americans in control, and their defense the rest of the way kept the home team from making any kind of extended rally.

A crowd of about 18,000 showed their respect by standing and applauding the Americans as the game ended.

"We have a young team and are still learning about each other and hopefully that will improve as each of these games goes on," Brown said. "The experience we had playing here was real important for us."

Rather than playing a zone as Italy and Germany did almost exclusively in the Americans' earlier exhibition games, the Serbian team went with a man-to-man scheme.

The U.S. team also played man-to-man defense, and two of the game's best one-on-one moves were made by Dejan Bodiroga -- often called the best player in Europe -- against Carmelo Anthony.

The Americans bounced back after missing their first five shots and led 20-17 after one quarter.

The game got away from the Serbs early in the second quarter, and the big run brought the American players and coaches off the bench in jubilation. One of the most impressive stretches was a blocked shot by Shawn Marion that led to a breakaway, Marion sprinting downcourt to finish it with a dunk off a pass from Stephon Marbury.

It was 42-26 at halftime, and the Serbs' frustration became more and more evident in the third quarter.

Vladimir Radmanovic, who played poorly throughout, spiked a bottle of water to the floor after being yanked from the game, showering the court with water.

Odom was the American team's best player in the final quarter, stopping the Serbian team's momentum with clutch shots each time they tried to rally.

The home team's last possession ended with a steal by Allen Iverson, who stuck his tongue out and grinned after making the play.

Igor Rakocevic led Serbia-Montenegro with 18 points, and Bodiroga -- who did not start due to a knee injury -- added 14.

The U.S. team's next game will be against Turkey on Sunday night.

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