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ATHENS 2004

Nearly More Stunning News

Odom gets out of a sickbed and makes a big contribution down the stretch to help the U.S. defeat Greece and avoid another upset, 77-71.

August 18, 2004|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — The call for medical attention came in at 5 a.m. Tuesday from a stateroom aboard the Queen Mary II in Piraeus Harbor. Lamar Odom, sleepless in Athens, was dehydrated and suffering severe stomach pains.

The diagnosis was a virus. For that, you stay in bed, drink plenty of liquids and try to avoid running up and down the court for 40 minutes in an Olympic basketball game.

In any other Olympic year since 1992, it's probably what Odom would have been told to do.

But not this year. Not this Olympics. Not with this U.S. team. Not even against Tuesday night's opponent, Greece, a squad whose top two players have a total of one NBA season between them.

The U.S., beaten by Puerto Rico in its Olympic opener, struggled again Tuesday at Helliniko Indoor Arena. And, with Allen Iverson playing with a fractured thumb, Tim Duncan fouling out in the fourth quarter and Carlos Boozer in foul trouble, the U.S. needed Odom, virus and all, to hang on for a 77-71 victory before a sellout crowd of about 12,000.

Odom's key defensive stop on Dimitris Papanikolaou and subsequent two free throws with the U.S. leading by four in the final 15 seconds put the game out of reach.

"I am very dehydrated and my energy level is low," Odom said after the game. "But this is the Olympics. It's no time to be sick."

It's also no time to miss outside shots, lose defensive intensity or turn the ball over, but the U.S. team continued to do all three with alarming frequency.

After sinking only three of 24 shots from three-point range against Puerto Rico, the U.S. made four of 21 against Greece. As was the case against Puerto Rico, the U.S. was outshot by the Greeks.

"I believe we will make an outside shot sometime in this tournament," said U.S. Coach Larry Brown, frustration evident on his face. "Shooting in the NBA has become a lost art. We accept a lot of bad shots and I don't like that. I think we try to entertain more than just play basketball."

The sellout crowd came to be entertained by its national team and was not disappointed. Any hopes the U.S. had of taking the fans out of the game ended quickly when Michail Kakiouzis drilled a three-pointer to put his country on the scoreboard.

The crowd erupted in a sea of blue and white Greek flags.

Whenever the U.S. artfully completed a fastbreak, rammed home a dunk or put together a scoring run, Greece responded.

Iverson, who injured his thumb in the first U.S. game and aggravated it in practice, made only four of 14 shots, yet led his team with 17 points.

Greece's scoring leader was Antonios Fotsis, the first Greek in the NBA. Fotsis lasted only one season with the Memphis Grizzlies but looked every bit an NBA star in this game, making eight of 15 shots for a game-high 22 points.

Teammate Lazaros Papadopoulos had made himself available for the NBA draft in 2002, but no club expressed an interest. It may be time for a second look. The 6-11 center made six of 12 shots for 14 points, pulled down a team-high seven rebounds and held his own in the paint against Duncan.

"Papadopoulos did a great job controlling their game," Brown said. "They were appealing to watch, they had ball movement and it was hard for us to guard them."

The U.S. led after three quarters, 57-53, but when Kakiouzis made a three-pointer with 6:19 to play, the U.S. margin was down to one, 62-61.

The Greeks never got any closer, but they still trailed by only four, 67-63, when Duncan fouled out with 3:52 to play on what replays indicated was a phantom foul. "It was tough," Brown said. "We are not used to the way the international game is called."

It was especially tough to lose Duncan at such a critical moment. He had scored 13 of his 14 points in the second half and had a game-high nine rebounds.

That left the heavy lifting to Odom, the man who could barely lift himself up to get to the arena. But he played 27 minutes, had seven points, eight rebounds and three crucial blocked shots.

"I know one thing," teammate Shawn Marion said. "Lamar was our MVP tonight."

*

In other games, Puerto Rico came down after beating the U.S. and lost to Lithuania, 98-90; Serbia and Montenegro held off Italy, 74-72; Spain defeated Argentina, 87-76, as Pao Gasol had 26 points and eight rebounds; Yao Ming had 39 points and 13 rebounds in China's 69-62 victory over New Zealand, and Australia defeated Angola, 83-59.

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