Upset special: Greece stuns U.S. in FIBA semis
SAITAMA, Japan -- As they warmed up before Friday's semifinal against Greece, the U.S. players put on a jam session for the fans.
Team USA lost because it keeps changing its roster, never developing the chemistry and familiarity that the best international teams have developed.
The Greeks had two or three plays that worked over and over and over again, just like Argentina's plays worked two years ago in Athens, and Team USA didn't have the cohesion a team needs to play the halfcourt defense required to win in these tournaments.
• To read more of Chris Sheridan's analysis from the FIBA World Championship, click here.
Dwight Howard dunked emphatically. Dwyane Wade bounced the ball off the backboard, caught it and stuffed. Elton Brand jammed an alley-oop pass. Finally, LeBron James flew down the lane for a tomahawk.
As the crowd roared, the Greeks lined up at the other end and shot free throws. The moment foretold Greece's 101-95 victory in the semifinals of the world championships.
The U.S. has dazzling skill; the Greeks are a dazzling team.
"We have to learn the international game better," U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We learned a lot today because we played a team that plays amazing basketball and plays together."
The loss means the U.S. (7-1) will play Argentina (7-1) for the bronze medal Saturday. Greece (8-0) will face fellow unbeaten Spain in the final Sunday. Spain defeated Argentina 75-74 in Friday's other semifinal.
For the U.S., a medal would improve on its sixth-place showing in Indianapolis in the 2002 world championships. But as the grim-faced Americans left the floor, their pain was obvious. They have failed to bring home a major international championship for the third straight tournament.
"Those guys are hurting and it's probably a better thing we have to come back tomorrow and play again instead of sitting on this for two days," Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo said.
A victory in Japan would have meant an automatic berth in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Instead, the U.S. will have to qualify in the FIBA Americas tournament in Venezuela.
By then, the U.S. will have been together for more than a year. The lack of experience -- and familiarity with each other -- was glaringly obvious against a Greek squad that has been together three years.
"I think we showed everybody that maybe we're not very good athletes like them, but we know how to play the game," said Greek guard Theodoros Papaloukas, who carved up the U.S. defense with 12 assists. "We are clever."
The Greeks don't have an NBA player on their roster, although guard Vassilis Spanoulis is headed for the Houston Rockets. Spanoulis led Greece with 22 points, Mihalis Kakiouzis added 15 and 6-foot-10 Sofoklis Schortsianitis -- nicknamed "Baby Shaq" -- bulled his way to 14 on 6-of-7 shooting.
The U.S. was led by its three captains -- Carmelo Anthony with 27 points, Dwyane Wade with 19 and LeBron James with 17.
"It's hard for one team, if they have so many big players, in one month to adapt to their new roles," Papaloukas said. "All these players are big stars, but you have to do small different things. I think that was the difference: In our team, everybody knew what they had to do exactly."
The Greeks did one thing beautifully in this game: the pick-and-roll. No matter what defense Krzyzewski tried, the Greeks found open shooters beyond the 3-point arc or open lanes to the basket. As a result, the Greeks shot 63 percent.
"They ran like one play the whole game," Wade said.
In the earlier rounds, the U.S. applied defensive pressure to create easy baskets. That didn't work against the methodical Greeks, who committed only 10 turnovers, the fewest by an American opponent.
ATHENS, Greece -- Thousands of Greeks gathered in the streets, waved flags and honked car horns to celebrate the 101-95 upset victory over the United States.
"This is the biggest thing we've ever done," former Greek star Panayiotis Fasoulas said. "The Americans are the most talented players but we have a better team. Right now we're the best in the world. ... Beating the U.S. is more important than the final."
Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis cut short scheduled meetings to watch the end of the game and expressed gratitude to the Greek team.
"I wonder if a 'thank you' is enough, but I feel the need to say it twice over to [coach] Panagiotis Yannakis and his guys," Karamanlis said in a statement.
Chanting "Lift the Cup," fans waved Greece's blue-and-white flags, blared car horns as midday parties sprang up in Athens and Thessaloniki, Greece's second-largest city.
Traffic information screens flashed the final score, as motorists abandoned their cars to join celebrating crowds. Teenagers set off firecrackers and waved flags on mo-peds as they headed to the center of Athens.
-- The Associated Press
"They played damn near a perfect game," American forward Chris Bosh said.
Here's the worst indictment of the U.S. defense: It gave up more points to Greece than China did.
The U.S. also was done in by inept outside shooting, a problem in other games. The Americans were coming off their worst shooting performance in this tournament. They shot 38 percent from the floor, and 25 percent from beyond the arc, in an 85-65 victory over Germany.
Against the Greeks, the U.S. shot 50 percent from the floor but only 32 percent from beyond the arc. The U.S. also shot 59 percent from the line. Still, the Americans scored 95 points, which would be enough to win most games.
For most of this tournament, the U.S. started slowly and then overwhelmed opponents. Against Greece, it was the other way around.
The U.S. used an 11-2 run to take a 33-21 lead with 6:23 left in the first half. But the Greeks outscored the U.S. 24-8 over the final 6:10 of the second quarter to lead 45-41 at halftime.
"They made some really good plays and sort of seized the momentum there," U.S. forward Shane Battier said. "We did not respond with the composure you need to be a world champion."
As the deficit grew, the Americans sometimes abandoned team concepts. One glaring example came as the U.S. tried to drain the clock for the final shot of the third quarter. Wade dribbled through four defenders and tossed up an off-balance layup with three seconds to go. The Greeks grabbed the rebound and found Spanoulis for a layup at the buzzer to lead 77-65.
"I think this is the NBA, one against five," Papaloukas said. "It's different rules" in the worlds.
The U.S. is learning that, one international defeat at time.
Now the Americans have to bounce back against an Argentine team led by Manu Ginobli and Andres Nocioni. A victory would produce a bronze medal, which is what the much-maligned 2004 U.S. Olympic team earned in Athens. For this group, bronze wasn't the goal, but it would be better than nothing.
"I want to go home with something," Bosh said. "Fourth place, I'll be walking home with a sandwich."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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