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Odom saves the day for Team USA

8/18/2004

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."