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Published: Friday, 8/15/2008

Bryant adds exclamation point to U.S. win over Greece

BY SHELLY ANDERSON
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

BEIJING - They were talking about this game afterward.

"Man, did you see the one where D-Wade chased down the ball, saved it, almost threw a no-look, and it goes for the lob? That was one of the best I've ever seen," one guy gushed.

This wasn't from just some fan in the stands or even a television talking head. It was someone who knows how to judge such plays.

It was Carlos Boozer giving props to teammate Dwyane Wade for his stunning assist on a Kobe Bryant second-quarter basket yesterday in a 92-69 grudge match win over Greece at the Olympic Basketball Gymnasium.

The United States men's basketball Olympic team hasn't jumped into the fast lane at these Games the way record-setting American swimmer Michael Phelps has.

Nor has its event had the buildup of this weekend's men's 100-meter dash, featuring American Tyson Gay.

Look for that to change. The U.S. is on a roll, and things probably will only get louder.

Not only are the Americans 3-0 in the pool-play portion of the tournament, but they also showed yesterday that they have the kind of fire and versatility to atone for a couple of blemishes on their record from recent years.

After the team was assembled with NBA stars following an

Olympics rules change, it won the Olympic gold medal in 1992, 1996, and 2000. Then, in 2004 in Athens, the Americans lost three games and finished with a bronze - nearly a failure considering the expectation level.

To sharpen the sting, they were stunned by Greece 101-95 in the semifinals of the 2006 World Championships.

The rematch here was much different as the U.S. cruised past the Greeks in the teams' first meeting since 2006.

There were the spectacular plays, of course - several Bryant dunks, for example.

"Kobe had a lot of good dunks," Wade said. "That was crazy. That was athleticism for you."

Or the second-quarter play in which LeBron James bumped the ball away from Greece's Konstantinos Tsartsaris between the top of the key and midcourt, then drove for a booming reverse dunk.

"We're playing every game like it's our last," said James, who had 13 points and six assists, added to 18 points apiece from Bryant and Chris Bosh, and 17 points and six steals from Wade.

"We're going after every opponent. It's the biggest stage of our life, so we've been coming out here taking care of business."

The game yesterday showed a steelier side of the Americans. They played stingy defense and didn't rely solely on their thundering offense.

The Greeks, looking for a seam in that defense, ran a lot of pick-and-roll plays. The seam wasn't there, forcing them to shoot from outside. They were 0-for-7 in 3-pointers the first half, and by halftime the U.S. had a 51-32 lead.

"Everything. I mean, top to bottom, we're playing way better," Boozer said.

One large receptive audience has been the Chinese fans.

When the men's team shows up to watch the U.S. women's basketball team, extra security surrounds the section where they are seated because the local fans - who seem to have the bulk of the tickets to all the games, regardless of the matchup - surge and cheer and try to get close to the players.

When the men are playing and they pull off one of those razzle-dazzle plays, the roar is impressive.

"I'm really taken aback by how much support we're getting. I didn't expect it," Boozer said. "The fans here have been terrific, from Beijing and even fans from other countries who are coming to watch our games."

"It's great to see how we're so well received," James added. "It's humbling for us as players to see that we have fans not just in America but all over the world."

The U.S. tomorrow plays defending world champion Spain, which beat Greece in 2006 after the Greeks upset the Americans.

It's another chance for the U.S. to distance itself from some international disappointment.

"Just being a part of this team and watching the kind of athletes that we have and watching the way we play, it's something," Boozer said.

"We're playing a great style of basketball and, hopefully, we'll do that the rest of the tournament."

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Shelly Anderson is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.



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