LAS VEGAS -- The Americans are headed to Beijing, looking
good enough to be golden again.
Carmelo Anthony scored 27 points, Michael Redd had 23, and the
United States earned a spot in the 2008 Olympics by crushing Puerto
Rico 135-91 on Saturday in the semifinals of the FIBA Americas
A 78-point second half gave the Americans their third-highest
scoring game since they started using pros in 1992. The Dream Team
scored 136 points against Cuba in its first game, and the Americans
had 137 against Russia in the 1994 world championships final.
"I don't know if we can be any better," LeBron James said.
"We shoot the ball extremely well, we rebound extremely well, we
play defense. Anything you want in a team, we've been able to do
that for the most part the whole tournament."
James added 19 points and nine assists, Kobe Bryant scored 15
points, and the three stars keyed a dominant third quarter stretch
that showed why the Americans will arrive in China as one of the
gold medal favorites. Then they headed to the bench, where they sat
while fans chanted their names in the final minutes.
But there was no postgame party for the Americans, who never
expected to have much trouble qualifying.
"We congratulated everybody and each other and said
congratulations, but we know we're in it for the long haul,"
Bryant said. "So it's not something that we get too excited
Anthony made four 3-pointers during the near-perfect period,
when the Americans hit 14 of 16 shots (87.5 percent), including all
eight 3-pointers while outscoring Puerto Rico 43-28.
The United States finished 23-of-36 (64 percent) from behind the
arc. Redd was 7-of-8, Anthony hit 6 of 7, and Mike Miller was
"I think everybody worked on it after everybody said we can't
shoot and don't have shooters," Anthony said. "But I think we
proved we can and can score in multiple ways."
The Americans are without a gold medal in their last three major
events: the 2004 Olympics, and 2002 and '06 world championships.
But they remain untouchable in the Olympic qualifier, improving to
35-0 -- with still only one game decided by single digits.
They will try to complete a perfect run in Sunday's final
against Argentina, but the game is ultimately meaningless. Both
teams locked up berths by winning their semifinal games, joining
host China, world champion Spain, and zone champions Iran, Angola
and Australia as teams already in the Beijing field.
"We'll approach it the same," U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
"Both teams are ecstatic to be qualified for the Olympics. We'd
just like to finish off playing well. In the big scheme of things I
guess it doesn't mean much, but we'll go out and play hard."
Larry Ayuso scored 22 points and Carlos Arroyo added 21 for
Puerto Rico, which stayed with the U.S. until a curious
substitution pattern in the second quarter -- not that it would have
mattered after what the Americans did in the third.
"We knew we were facing the best team in the world," said
Arroyo, who sparked Puerto Rico's upset of the U.S. in Athens.
"The changes the USA team has made the last three years, we just
couldn't run with them."
Still, Puerto Rico did enough here to guarantee itself games
next year. Minutes away from elimination in the first round, the
Puerto Ricans recovered to earn a spot along with Brazil and
fifth-place Canada in next summer's Olympic qualifying tournament.
Puerto Rico and Brazil will meet Sunday for third place.
With Arroyo getting around Jason Kidd and Ayuso occasionally
breaking free of Bryant for some long jumpers, Puerto Rico shot 55
percent and trailed only 33-27 after one quarter. The lead was
still six when both went to the bench with 8:20 left.
And for some reason, that's where they stayed for the rest of
The Americans quickly pushed the lead into double digits, and
the Puerto Ricans couldn't do much about it -- especially after
another starter, center Peter John Ramos, went to the bench with
his third foul with 5:11 to go. Puerto Rico managed only four field
goals in the period and the U.S. lead was 57-42 at halftime.
"I thought our bench would give us good minutes and I trusted
my bench would keep us close, but they pulled away," Puerto Rico
coach Manuel Cintron said. "It was my mistake but I thought our
bench would keep it closer than 15 points."
Anthony moved past Gary Payton for the most points by a U.S.
player in an Olympic qualifying tournament. Anthony has 175 points,
while Payton had 160 in 1999.