Greece 101, United States 95
SAITAMA, Japan (Ticker) -- Team USA is going back to the international basketball drawing board. Greece is going to the final of the World Championships. In a damaging first loss of the tournament, the United States squandered a 12-point first-half lead, fell behind by double digits midway through the third quarter and never recovered in a disheartening 101-95 setback to Greece. With the loss, Team USA (7-1) was relegated to Saturday's bronze medal game against Argentina and is assured of finishing no better than it did in the 2004 Olympics - despite the overhaul of USA Basketball by managing director Jerry Colangelo. In addition, the U.S. must qualify for the 2008 Olympics through its FIBA zone tournament next summer in Venezuela, a journey every team member was looking to avoid. "We lost to a team that played a great game, and I take responsibility for the loss," Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We came in with a mentality that we wanted to win this game and try to win the gold medal," Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony said. "At the end of the day, we need to get ourselves together. It's not the end of the world for us. We win together and lose together." The Americans appeared rejuvenated and re-energized early in this tournament after embarrassing showings at the 2002 Worlds and 2004 Olympics. But they proved to be no match for the offensive fluidity and pinpoint accuracy of the Greeks, who have no players good enough to play for Team USA. Nevertheless, Greece (8-0) is positioned to win its second major international title in as many years. The 2005 Eurobasket champions will face Spain in Sunday's game for the gold medal. "We knew that in this tournament, the United States (was) playing a lot better than they had in other tournaments, which is why I have to congratulate my players," Greece coach Panagatios Yannakis said. "I hope that people understand that European basketball is not only about dribbling and shooting." "The Greek team and their coaching staff did an amazing job today," Krzyzewski said. "It's not surprising. I've known Yannakis most of my basketball life. His team plays like he played." Team USA held a 33-21 lead after Joe Johnson of the Atlanta Hawks drained a 3-pointer with 6:32 left in the second quarter. But Greece promptly went on a crisp 24-8 run to close to the half as Sofoklis Schortsanitis scored eight points, Theodoros Papaloukas added six and Dimitrios Diamantidis five in the burst. The Americans trailed, 45-41, at halftime but suddenly found themselves down, 65-51, just over four minutes into the third quarter after three consecutive 3-pointers by Greece. In that stretch that broke open the contest, both Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony and Cleveland Cavaliers swingman LeBron James missed a pair of free throws. In all, Team USA made just 20-of-34 from the line, including 7-of-14 between Anthony and James. From there, the United States missed free throws and struggled to defend the pick-and-roll. The Americans scratched away and got as close as four points several times in the final minute, but the Greeks held on. "(Schortsianitis) was getting the ball off pick-and-rolls," Orlando Magic forward Dwight Howard said. "They were running the same play the whole second half and he was getting in there every time." As he has been throughout the tournament, Anthony was by far Team USA's best offensive option, finishing with 27 points on 9-of-15 shooting. Miami Heat superstar Dwyane Wade added 19 and James 17 for Team USA, which still has not won an international basketball title since the 2000 Olympics. The Americans shot 50 percent (33-of-66) but just 9-of-28 from the arc, a hangover from their quarterfinal win over Germany in which they shot 10-of-40 from long range. 3-pointers. Once again, a bulk of their offense came in transition and in other situations where they could employ superior athleticism. But when it came to half-court offense, Team USA could not keep up with the Greeks, who continuously torched the Americans with the pick-and-roll and dribble penetration. "It's an unbelievable game," said Yannakis, whose team scored 87 points over the final three quarters. "I think this game has promoted basketball. My team has great spirit, but above all, they have great character. They waited, they believed and they never lost their confidence. They didn't panic." "They went out there and played hard," Howard said. "They felt like they were the underdogs. They played hard the whole game and had the fans behind them and won the game." Vasileios Spanoulis, who will join the Houston Rockets this season, paced Greece with 22 points. Michail Kakiouzis contributed 15 points for the Greeks, who had eight players with at least eight points and shot nearly 63 percent (35-of-56), including a blistering 14-of-18 in the third quarter.