U.S. puts clamps on Serbia-Montenegro

Updated: August 7, 2004, 2:12 AM ET
Associated Press

BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro -- The world champs were inexplicably awful, and the Americans put together an all-around excellent effort in their latest Olympic warmup.

Perhaps the worst is already in the past for coach Larry Brown's youngsters.

After breaking open the game with a 14-0 run to begin the second quarter, the Americans stayed in control the rest of the way and earned a standing ovation from the crowd after a 78-60 victory Friday night over Serbia-Montenegro.

"We just keep getting better," LeBron James said. "As time wears on, we are becoming more of a team."

James had 11 points and shot 5-for-6 from the field one game after being limited to seven minutes of playing time.

Tim Duncan scored 16 points, Shawn Marion had 10 and Allen Iverson added nine points six assists and four steals in what was easily the U.S. team's best effort in four exhibition games. The victory, coming against the team that won the World Championship on U.S. soil in 2002, should go a long way toward re-establishing the Americans as one of the favorites for the gold medal in Athens.

When the evening began, they weren't even picked to win the game. Local betting parlors listed the Serbian team as a four-point favorite.

"We gave them too much respect at the start of the game. We were very bad," Serbia-Montenegro guard Igor Rakocevic said.

The Americans took a partisan crowd out of the game by holding Serbia-Montenegro to just nine points in the second quarter, showing none of the faults that hampered them in earlier games against Italy and Germany while shutting down an opponent that appeared both overconfident and incompetent.

"We played hard and we tried to do what was right, and I think that was a significant step," Brown said.

The U.S. team went 14-for-14 from the free-throw line and 30-of-60 from the field while holding the Serbian team to 35 percent shooting overall and 1-for-14 accuracy from 3-point range.

Rather than playing a zone as Italy and Germany did almost exclusively in the Americans' earlier exhibition games, the Serbian team went with a man-to-man scheme.

The U.S. team also played man-to-man defense, and two of the game's best one-on-one moves were made by Dejan Bodiroga -- often called the best player in Europe -- against Carmelo Anthony. The first was the most impressive, Bodiroga dribbling behind his back and through his legs before darting around Anthony for a layup.

"It was his extreme desire to play," said Serbia-Montenegro coach Zelimar Obradovic, who said Bodiroga had a knee injury. "He got an injection and played and that's it. With the [U.S.] Olympic team playing in Belgrade, he definitely did not want to miss this game."

The Americans bounced back after missing their first five shots and led 20-17 after one quarter.

The game got away from Serbia-Montenegro early in the second quarter, and the big run brought the American players and coaches off the bench in jubilation. One of the best sequences was a blocked shot by Shawn Marion that led to a breakaway, Marion sprinting downcourt to finish it with a dunk off a pass from Stephon Marbury.

"We came out and I thought were a little tight, missed some shots, but we started to defend and pass, pass, pass and play the right way," Brown said.

It was 42-26 at halftime, and the Serbs' frustration became more and more evident in the third quarter.

Vladimir Radmanovic, who shot 2-for-8 and played poorly throughout, spiked a bottle of water to the floor after being yanked from the game, showering the court with water.

Lamar Odom was the American team's best player in the final quarter, stopping the Serbian team's momentum with clutch shots each time they tried to rally.

The home team's last possession ended with a steal by Allen Iverson, who stuck his tongue out and grinned after making the play.

"I think it was a good all-around game. We played hard. We played well at both ends of the court and we were able to get a win, fortunately, going against a tough crowd like that against those guys at home," Iverson said.

Igor Rakocevic led Serbia-Montenegro with 18 points, and Bodiroga -- who did not start -- added 14 . NBA players Predrag Drobnjak and Zarko Cabarkapa did not play as Obradovic gave time to many of his younger players.

The U.S. team's next game will be against Turkey on Sunday night.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press