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Marion paces with 22

8/29/2004

ATHENS, Greece -- Bronze is better than nothing. That's one
Olympic lesson the U.S. men's basketball team was able to
understand.

The Americans took the third-place game seriously Saturday
night, earning some revenge and salvaging some self-respect in a
104-96 victory over Lithuania.

Although they didn't get what they wanted in Athens, they didn't
embarrass themselves in their finale, either.

"You want to win the whole thing, but you've got to cherish the
fact that you were able to win something," Allen Iverson said.

"You come all the way over here to Greece and then go home with
nothing? That's a lot worse."

Iverson stared at the Argentine flag as it was raised during the
medal ceremony, nothing even remotely resembling a smile crossing
his face.

The American team left quickly after getting its medals, while
the players from Argentina, who defeated Italy 84-69 for the gold,
stayed on the court for another 20 minutes. They cut down the nets,
wrapped themselves in flags, sang songs and celebrated with their
fans.

Defeating one of three teams that beat them earlier in the
tournament, the Americans got 22 points from Shawn Marion, 15 from
Iverson and 14 apiece from Lamar Odom and Stephon Marbury.

The Americans' key to victory was their shooting, as it was in
their quarterfinal win over Spain. After missing all five of their
3-point attempts in the first half against Lithuania, they made
eight in the second half -- four of them in the final quarter.

The 104 points was the most by any team in the men's tournament,
topping the 102 the Americans scored against Spain two nights
earlier in the quarterfinals. They were knocked out of gold-medal
contention by Argentina in an 89-81 semifinal loss Friday.

"I think we ought to be real positive about them and what they
did, the commitment they made and the sacrifice they made," U.S.
coach Larry Brown said. "I said this before: This is the greatest
time I ever had as a coach, and I don't know if I've ever been more
proud of a group of people after tonight than this group. It has
not been easy."

The start of the game was delayed 48 minutes after both teams
arrived wearing white uniforms. It also included a second half that
started with no coaches on the American bench. Brown emerged from
the tunnel 50 seconds after play started, and his assistants beat
him out by only 30 seconds.

"They changed the clock on us, and I've got two new hips," the
63-year-old Brown said. "We were in a slow jog trying to get
here."

Strange stuff, but not quite as weird as the Americans dropping
three games after they had lost only two in the previous 68 years.
It's the first time since pro players were added for the 1992 Dream
Team that the United States is going home without gold.

For the Lithuanian team, the defeat was the second in a row
after it won its first six games. The loss denied them a fourth
consecutive bronze medal.

"In general, fourth place is very good for a country like ours,
but to lose the last two games hurts," Sarunas Jasikevicius said.
"Could have been better, could have been worse, I guess."

The U.S. team was saying pretty much the same thing on a day the
U.S. women won their third straight Olympic basketball title.

Wearing red after their replacement uniforms arrived before
Lithuania's, the Americans opened an early 22-13 lead and created
fast-break opportunities with their pressure defense. But Lithuania
answered with three consecutive 3-pointers -- one of which became a
four-point play -- to take a 23-22 lead.

Tim Duncan stared at the referees in disbelief after his first
foul, just as he had after almost every call against him during the
tournament. When he was whistled for another moments later on what
appeared to be a good call, he stood along the lane with his back
to the basket and the referee while a Lithuanian player took his
free throws.

Duncan stayed on the bench for the entire second quarter, which
ended with the Americans ahead 49-44 after they forced 13 turnovers
and made eight steals.

"I am about 95 percent sure my FIBA career is over," Duncan
said, using the acronym for the sport's international governing
body. "I'll try not to share my experiences with anyone."

Lithuania started hitting 3-pointers and opened a 65-58 lead in
the third quarter before the United States came back with an 8-0
run. Duncan went to the bench with his fourth foul with 2:02
remaining in the third quarter and the score 67-67, and the
Americans led 83-82 when he returned with 6:08 left.

A pair of 3-pointers by Marion and Odom came during a 9-3 run
that put the Americans up for good, and their defense held
Lithuania to just seven points in the final three minutes.

Lithuania went 21-for-37 on 3-pointers but committed 20
turnovers and 27 fouls.

"We wanted gold, but I'm taking anything right now. That's the
way it is," Marion said. "Everybody wants to play for the gold.
To come back and be motivated for (the bronze) was a big challenge
for all of us.

"We had to dig deep inside of us. We did tonight. At least
we'll go home with something. We won't go home empty-handed."