Team USA unimpressive in victory over Venezuela
By Chris Bernucca SportsTicker Pro Basketball Editor
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Despite being a native of the tiny territory, Tim Duncan does not play for the U.S. Virgin Islands. On Saturday, he didn't play for the United States, either.
With a conflicted Duncan sitting it out, Team USA used a small lineup for a big 113-55 rout of the Virgin Islands that kept it undefeated in the FIBA Tournament of the Americas.
During practice earlier this month, Duncan said he "dreaded" playing against his homeland. His dual citizenship allowed him to play for the United States at the 1994 Goodwill Games, when the Virgin Islands did not even have a team.
FIBA rules state that once a player competes on the senior level for a country, he cannot play for any other country. But FIBA rules say nothing about sitting out specific games, a decision made by the superstar forward of the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs prior to Saturday's first-round finale.
"He was thinking about it," said Team USA coach Larry Brown of the Detroit Pistons. "He's got a lot of friends over there, he cares about those guys. He talked to Pop (Team USA assistant and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich) and he talked to me about it. He just thought it was the right thing to do."
Duncan's decision may have been a bit more interesting had this game been more important. But the U.S. already had clinched a berth in the second round, while the Virgin Islands still is looking for its virgin win in this tournament.
However, it appeared some sort of special dispensation was made for Duncan, whose choice was somewhat understandable but a tad selfish.
"It was a personal decision, of course," said Duncan, who released a statement and did not meet the media. "I did speak with the coaches and some of my Virgin Islands friends and came to the decision that it was the best gesture to make and the right thing to do, and it felt right in this situation."
Duncan's teammates realized he had made his decision while they were sitting in the locker room before the game. Forwards Elton Brand and Jermaine O'Neal were talking about it when Brand noticed something.
"He didn't believe me," said Brand, who got the start in Duncan's place. "I said, 'Tim's not playing.' He said, 'Whatever.' I said, 'Look, his ankles aren't taped.'"
Duncan had support from members of both teams.
"We respect the fact that he feels that way," O'Neal said.
"I've gotta think that he was in a pretty tough situation," guard Ray Allen added. "I'm glad he didn't play because at least he showed that he respected them and that he's from the Virgin Islands."
Virgin Islands coach Tevester Anderson admitted he was surprised that Duncan opted to sit out.
"It was a great gesture on his part," Anderson said.
"What he did was a compliment to him and the Virgin Islands," said Virgin Islands player Sylvester Charles.
Truthfully, Duncan's absence was hardly noticed. In fact, it allowed Brown to experiment a bit, and he found a small but lethal combination in the second quarter.
"He's such a special player, but with our team, I think we have a lot of special players that we can overcome a loss like that," the coach said.
With a lineup featuring Kenyon Martin at center, Tracy McGrady at power forward and Mike Bibby running the show, the Americans ran off 20 straight points to turn the game into the rout everyone expected.
"He (Brown) got a chance to see what other guys could do in different positions," said McGrady, who scored 10 points.
The quickness was especially evident on defense as the Virgin Islands could barely get into its offensive sets. Team USA repeatedly intercepted high cross-court passes, turning them into breakaway dunks and layups that wowed the Roberto Clemente Coliseum crowd.
"There was a lot of speed out there," McGrady said. "We went small, played great defense, got in transition, and played unselfishly."
The track meet finally ended on Martin's backcourt steal and layup that made it 46-21 with 5:35 to play in the first half. Martin and Bibby had seven points each and shooting guard Ray Allen added two flying slams.
At the 2:57 mark, Brown inserted Nick Collison, an NBA rookie selected as a collegian who has become the team's human victory cigar. He immediately dunked, signifying the end of the game and the beginning of the show.
On a 5-on-2 break, Jason Kidd repeated his act of Wednesday night when he passed off the backboard to Vince Carter, who one-handed home a vicious jam. On the next possession, Allen Iverson tried a similar play with Richard Jefferson, but it failed - until Iverson put in the rebound and drew a foul for a 59-28 lead with 1:07 remaining.
Iverson scored 17 points to lead seven players in double figures for Team USA, which shot 66 percent (42-of-66) from the field and had 38 assists. Martin and Carter added 14 points apiece and even Collison added 13.
In four games in four days, the Americans averaged 108 points and won by an average of 39.8. They improved to 63-3 all-time with NBA players, posting their sixth-largest victory margin.
The U.S. gets a day off Sunday, when it will find out its schedule for four more games in four days, beginning Monday. The Americans will play Canada, Puerto Rico, Mexico and a highly anticipated game against Argentina, which became the first country to beat a team of NBA players at last year's World Championships.
Before Team USA's demolition derby, Canada cleared up a fuzzy Group A picture with a 94-90 victory over winless Uruguay (0-4), which was eliminated. By winning, the Canadians (2-1) clinched a berth in the second round for themselves, Puerto Rico (1-1) and Mexico (2-0), the latter two meeting Saturday night in a now meaningless game.
Canada overcame a sub-par performance by Dallas All-Star guard Steve Nash, who managed just four points and six assists. Former St. John's player Rowan Barrett picked up the slack with 22 points for the Canadians, who allowed nine 3-pointers in the first half but just three in the second half.
Saturday's late Group B contest pits Brazil (1-1) and Venezuela (0-2), which can clinch a second-round berth with a win. Should the Venezuelans lose, their game Sunday vs. the Virgin Islands would be an elimination game.
After the second round, the four teams with the best records advance to the semifinals on August 30. The semifinal winners assure themselves of Olympic berths and play for the gold medal.
The semifinal losers play for the bronze medal in the tournament's most important game. The winner gets a berth in the 2004 Olympics, while the loser gets nothing.
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index
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