Team USA hits 12 of 16 shots in fourth
RECAP | BOX SCOREATHENS, Greece -- LeBron James eyed Shawn Marion's pass coming toward him and made a split-second decision to redirect the ball. One nifty touch pass later, Dwyane Wade converted it into a layup.
The win might have been a big step toward reversing the fortunes of a U.S. team that struggled to beat Greece and was embarrassed by Puerto Rico in a 19-point loss.
"Everything's not clicking yet, but we're heading that way,'' Tim Duncan said. "It was a great learning experience today being able to fight back and staying with each other.''
After a defensively inept first half and a so-so third quarter, the Americans increased their defensive intensity against the Aussies, moved the ball with aplomb and put together a few of the showtime moments their Olympic predecessors took for granted.
On Day 6 of the games, perhaps they finally arrived.
"This young kid (James) and Dwayne Wade started throwing the ball inside, and all of the sudden everybody on our team got better,'' coach Larry Brown said. "Hopefully we've got to remember that. But we're not dealing with Michael Jordans and Larry Birds and Magic Johnsons that have done that from the beginning, and it's going to take time for some of these young people.''
Duncan scored 18 points, Allen Iverson and Marion each added 16 and Wade scored 12 for the U.S. team, which shot 57 percent from the field -- 71 percent from 2-point range but only 3-for-17 on 3s.
The Americans also kept their turnovers down, found better shots than in their first two games and realized that the only way to fuel their offense is through defense.
The United States forced four misses and a turnover on Australia's first five possessions of the fourth quarter, and its ball moment was fluid and flashy during the run that put them ahead 75-67.
Australia, led by Shane Heal's 17 points, never threatened again.
"That's all our team is about,'' James said. "If we stop people, we're the most athletic team in this whole tournament and we can get out and get easy buckets.''
From the start, the Americans looked to run their offense through Duncan in the low post. But their defensive rotations were slow and they repeatedly left players open at the 3-point line.
Brown could only shake his head as Glen Saville sank the Aussies' fifth 3-pointer of the first quarter for a 24-18 lead, and the United States was down by 12 before the period was over.
The Americans' reluctance to attempt a 3-pointer was clear late in the second quarter when James hesitated so much before releasing the shot that the ball never even made it to the rim.
"I think they continue to (improve), but they'd better make jump shots to win the gold in this tournament,'' Heal said.
Wade and Iverson drove coast to coast for layups late in the half to help the Americans pull within 51-47 at the break, and Brown went with Marion instead of Richard Jefferson to start a second half that began with Duncan's third foul.
Duncan remained on the court and played foul-free for the rest of the quarter, and the Americans took their first lead since the early going on an alley-oop dunk by Marion off a pass from Iverson that made it 61-60 with 4:38 left.
A late 3-pointer by Brett Maher gave Australia a 67-65 lead entering the fourth quarter.
"We're trying to get better, and we're not where we want to be -- but we've progressed,'' Iverson said. "If we stay consistent on defense, we'll be fine. We'll get the easy baskets and then won't have rely on jumpers.''
Switching from Jefferson to Marion at the start of the second half wasn't the only change Brown made. He also kept Carmelo Anthony on the bench for all but 2 minutes.
"I don't need a guy who doesn't want to buy in,'' Brown said. "How you play, how you practice and how you act determines how much you play.''
James seems to have received that message, accepting his role off the bench and trying to provide the energy that the U.S. team has been missing.
"We don't have them all, but their starting to care about each other and understand the importance of representing our country the right way,'' Brown said. "The biggest challenge coaches have today on all levels is for guys to think of coaching as coaching and not criticism.
"He has a hard time looking at me sometimes because of how he might be perceived by certain people, but he listens to everything I say.''
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press