U.S.-Argentina, final Olympic berth on line at FIBA Tournament
By Chris Bernucca SportsTicker Pro Basketball Editor
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Take that, Argentina!
Dunking with such disdain it recalled distant memories of the original Dream Team, Team USA annihilated Argentina, 106-73, in the gold medal game of the FIBA Tournament of the Americas on Sunday night.
"The USA is coming and we're for real," swingman Tracy McGrady said.
Before the United States were very rude guests, Puerto Rico was the happy host, earning the tournament's final Olympic berth with a spirited 79-66 victory over Canada that rocked Roberto Clemente Coliseum to its checkered concrete ceiling.
Both Argentina and Team USA wrapped up berths in the 2004 Olympics with semifinal wins Saturday, setting up a rematch of their second-round game, an emotional 94-86 win by the Americans. While Argentina seemed content with silver, gold wasn't good enough for Team USA.
If this version of the Dream Team is going to have its 15 minutes of fame, this was it. The first quarter-and-a-half looked like a sampling from the Entertainers Basketball Classic, with Team USA racing to an absurd 53-19 lead and making the second-best team in the tourney look like a third-rate outfit.
"I think we really showed that we're the best players in the world," McGrady said. "I think from start to finish, that's what we showed - that we're the best."
During a ridiculous 33-4 relay race of a run that bridged the first and second quarters, this was Team USA's sequence of baskets: three-point play, dunk, dunk, dunk for a three-point play, dunk, 3-pointer, three-point play, 3-pointer, dunk, dunk dunk, dunk, layup - Mike Bibby spoiling the party - and dunk.
"It happened so fast," McGrady said. "It was like fast break after fast break, and before I knew it, we were up like 30 points. I couldn't believe it."
"It was scary," guard Ray Allen said. "We just hit 'em so hard, there was nothing they could do."
It was the most scintillating stretch of the tournament for a team Jermaine O'Neal has said will not lose again, a boast he and his teammates seemed intent on proving in less than eight minutes. And the Americans did it without picking up a basketball at shootaround Sunday morning.
"We just had a talk," forward Elton Brand said. "We wanted to play like we can play. And that's what we did."
Whatever the loyal contingent of 200 Argentine fans in the upper deck were singing, it should have been the blues. Their beloved national team looked nothing like the group that stunned the basketball world with its victory over NBA players in the 2002 World Championships, nor the group that just five days ago was tied with the U.S. with 6 1/2 minutes to play before succumbing, 94-86.
"We didn't forget what Argentina did to our team last year," McGrady said. "I think that game right there is really gonna leave a taste in someone's mouth."
Argentina (6-4) trailed by 33 points at halftime. In the first half, it had 27 points and 13 rebounds; Team USA's Tim Duncan had 19 and 12.
"I've never seen anything like that," Team USA coach Larry Brown said. "It's one thing to do it in some of these preliminary rounds, but with what was at stake and the fact that they broke our string and gave us a great game, that first 24 minutes was incredible."
The U.S. completed a 10-0 romp through the tournament, improving to 26-0 all-time in Olympic qualifiers and 69-3 with NBA players in international competition. The Americans stamped themselves the odds-on favorite to claim their fourth straight Olympic gold medal next year in Athens, Greece, regardless of what happens in next week's European Championships.
"(This will) give the world something to think about for a year," O'Neal said. "Hopefully this will let the rest of the world know that we are for real."
Duncan finished with 23 points and 14 rebounds for Team USA, which had six players in double figures. For the tournament, the U.S. averaged 101.6 points and won by an average of nearly 30 points.
Team USA did it rather easily, even without its full complement of players. Forward Karl Malone missed the entire tournament following the death of his mother, swingman Tracy McGrady missed three games with a back sprain and guard Allen Iverson sat out the medal round with a sprained right thumb.
For the medal ceremony, Iverson took off a throwback Michigan State jersey of Magic Johnson - a member of the original 1992 Dream Team - and donned his Team USA top.
Duncan and O'Neal were named to the All-Tournament Team and were joined by Argentines Manu Ginobili and Andres Noccioni. The fifth spot went to Most Valuable Player Steve Nash of Canada, whose team did not even win a medal.
The final medal went to Puerto Rico (6-4), which is headed to the 2004 Olympics following a convincing win in the all-or-nothing game for the bronze.
The hosts were led by 39-year-old Jose "Piculin" Ortiz, who had the best individual game of the tournament with 21 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and seven blocks.
"I think it's my best game, as important as this one (was)," Ortiz said. "But most important, like Julio (coach Julio Toro) said, we could not afford to be out two cycles of the Olympic games. It was going to be my last game if we didn't win."
"Los Boricuas" are back in for the fourth time in the last five Olympiads. Canada has missed three of the last four Olympics, qualifying in 2000 with a semifinal win here over the hosts.
Nash, the All-Star guard of the Dallas Mavericks who was sensational in the first and second rounds, made just 2-of-13 shots and finished with 10 points and seven assists for Canada (5-5).
The loss may have been the international exit for Nash, who has played for his country 10 of the last 12 years.
"I'm really not going to think about that right now," he said. "It would be rash of me."
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index
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