Odom saves the day for Team USA

Updated: August 18, 2004, 1:42 PM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Tim Duncan had fouled out, Allen Iverson was playing with a broken thumb, and Greece had just passed the ball inside with a chance to pull within two points with 18 seconds left.

Lamar Odom defended the play perfectly for the Americans, keeping his hand high and preventing Dimitris Pipanikoulaou from getting a clean layup attempt. Odom, playing despite severe dehydration, rebounded the miss and made two free throws to lock up the U.S. team's 77-71 victory Tuesday night in its second game of the Olympics.

In a much closer contest than expected, the Americans bounced back from their embarrassing loss to Puerto Rico in their opener and avoided dropping to 0-2, which would have matched their loss total from the previous 68 years.

"We wanted to play this one and get that out of our heads," Duncan said.

The big plays down the stretch came from Odom and Carlos Boozer after Duncan fouled out and Iverson cooled off following a strong start. The Americans didn't have a great game, but that didn't matter much to them.

They needed a win and they got one.

The game was a spectacle in many ways, from U.S. coach Larry Brown angrily gesturing at the referees to the raucous Greek fans taunting the Americans with chants of "Puerto Rico," singing soccer fight songs and waving blue and white flags.

Close games for the Americans were rare in previous Olympics, but now it appears to be something the Americans should get used to.

Struggling again from the outside against another team playing a tightly packed zone defense, the U.S. team shot 4-for-21 from 3-point range, committed 19 turnovers, missed 13 free throws and failed to show the ability to pull away -- even against a mediocre opponent.

"Believe it or not, I think we'll make an outside shot someday," said coach Larry Brown, who again expressed anger at his players for failing to accept the different roles he needs them to play.

Iverson scored 17 points, 13 of them in the first half, and Duncan had 13 of his 14 points in a third quarter in which he picked up three fouls, setting the stage for a tight fourth quarter.

The Americans led 64-61 when Duncan returned with 5:46 left, and 67-63 when he fouled out about two minutes later on a questionable loose-ball foul call that left him staring in disbelief and Brown pointing in anger at the official.

Odom and Stephon Marbury scored inside to give the Americans some breathing room, though a drive by Antonis Fotsis made it a four-point game with 1:10 left.

"At some points we really did feel we could win the game," Greece guard Theodoros Papaloukas said.

Boozer then came up with the Americans' biggest field goal of the night, rebounding Shawn Marion's missed 3-pointer from the corner and banking it in for a 74-68 lead.

A 3-pointer by Greece made it 75-71, and Boozer missed a pair of free throws to give Greece a chance to get within two.

Odom, however, wouldn't let it happen.

"I just tried to stay down, keep my body in front of him and make him shoot the ball over me," said Odom, who was up all night with a stomach virus and needed a 5 a.m. visit from his doctor because of dehydration. "I was able to deflect it a little bit, and that was a big play for our team."

A turnover by Greece after Odom's free throws with 15.5 seconds left finally quieted the crowd and ended the suspense.

"That was the loudest arena I've ever been in," LeBron James said. "That was electrifying."

Iverson scored nine of the Americans' 18 points in the first quarter, but Greece kept it close by collapsing two defenders on Duncan to keep him from attempting even a single shot.

James had three fast-break dunks in the first five minutes of the second quarter as part of a 10-2 run that put the Americans ahead 29-19. James added a short bank shot on another fast break to get the lead up to 12, but Brown removed him in favor of Iverson moments later, and Greece scored the next six points and trailed just 37-31 at the half.

Duncan did not attempt a field goal until 80 seconds had elapsed in the third quarter, and he picked up his second and third fouls in the first 2&12frac; minutes of the second half as Greece came back and took a 40-39 lead.

Brown was visibly irritated after Marbury missed everything on a long 3-point attempt, though he was nowhere near as angry as Duncan was when a referee whistled him for his fourth foul on what appeared to be a clean blocked shot with 1:43 left in the third.

Greece scored the final five points of the third quarter and trailed only 57-53 entering the fourth, then had a run of eight unanswered points to pull to 62-61 with 6:20 left.

"We kept our composure when they made their run," forward Shawn Marion said, "and when Tim was in foul trouble we still did what we had to do to win."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press