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ATHENS 2004

Another Shot at a Medal

Behind Stephon Marbury's record 31 points, the basketball team defeats Spain and advances to the semifinals.

August 27, 2004|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — How do you get overlooked when you are 6 feet 2, weigh 203 pounds, are in the NBA, play in New York for the Knicks and are a member of the U.S. men's basketball team?

For Stephon Marbury, it's understandable. He is playing on a team with bigger marquee names such as Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson and LeBron James.

And considering the way Marbury had been shooting, or rather misfiring, the less notice he got, the happier he was. Before Thursday's quarterfinal game between the U.S. and Spain, Marbury was shooting a dismal 20% from the field, including an embarrassing 13% from the three-point line.

But all that will be forgotten after Thursday's performance at the Olympic Indoor Hall. With Duncan playing only 20 minutes because of foul trouble and Lamar Odom fouling out, Marbury took the ball, took command and produced the greatest single-game scoring performance in U.S. Olympic history to lead his team to a 102-94 quarterfinal victory.

Marbury scored a record 31 points, shooting 67% from the field, including a record six of nine three-point shots. Spain had finished the pool round 5-0, the only unbeaten team, while the U.S. was 3-2, having lost to Puerto Rico and Lithuania. But it is the U.S. who is still playing for a medal, moving on to face Argentina, a 69-64 winner over Greece, in a semifinal today.

"Our first goal is already achieved," Marbury said. "There are only two more games for the gold medal."

Already anguished at seeing his high hopes for a medal vanish in 40 minutes of playing time, Spain's coach, Mario Pesquera, fumed after the final buzzer over what he felt had been an added insult. He accused U.S. Coach Larry Brown of rubbing it in by calling a timeout with 23 seconds remaining and the U.S. up by 11. Pesquera went after Brown and the two nearly came to blows. Brown later said he had tried unsuccessfully to cancel the timeout, and said he had tried to apologize to Pesquera, who wasn't placated.

Marbury wasn't the only American player to relocate the basket Thursday. Plagued by poor shooting earlier in the Olympics, the U.S. made 51% from the field. Most impressive was its accuracy from three-point range. Beginning the game last among the 12 Olympic teams in three-point accuracy at 23.6%, the U.S. soared to 55%, making 12 of 22.

"There isn't any team that can beat the U.S.," said Spain's Pau Gasol, "when you shoot like that and play as a team."

Gasol, who plays for the Memphis Grizzlies when he is not wearing the uniform of his native country, had 29 points. Teammates Jose Manuel Calderon (19) and Juan Carlos Navarro (17) also helped keep the pressure on the U.S.

And there was pressure. No matter how many clutch shots Marbury made, Spain stayed close until late in the fourth quarter. It made it easier that Duncan and Odom spent large amounts of time as spectators because of foul trouble. Duncan, who came in averaging 15.6 points and 11 rebounds, played only four minutes in the first half and finished with only nine points and four rebounds. Odom, who fouled out with 5:29 remaining, finished with 11 points and six rebounds.

Taking advantage of Duncan and Odom's sparse minutes, Spain outrebounded the U.S., 36-30.

But Spain couldn't do anything about Marbury. In the second quarter, the score was tied, 27-27. Marbury responded with a three-point basket.

In the third quarter, the U.S. lead was one, 48-47. Marbury responded with a three-point basket.

Spain made a run in the fourth quarter, getting within four at 82-78. Marbury responded with a three-point basket and Spain was never again as close.

No member of any U.S. men's basketball team including NBA players has scored more than 30 points. Not Magic Johnson. Not Michael Jordan. Not Larry Bird. Charles Barkley (against Brazil in 1992) and Adrian Dantley (against Yugoslavia in 1976) shared the old mark of 30. The old U.S. record for three-point baskets was five, set by Reggie Miller against China in 1996.

Marbury had been so frustrated about his shooting before Thursday that he put in hours taking aim at that elusive basket. "I went to the gym to get some extra shots," he said. "I started shooting the ball before practice and after practice. As anyone who knows anything about basketball can tell you, repetition is the key to shooting the ball well."

When the game ended, the U.S. was booed by a crowd disappointed that yet another U.S. team was in contention for gold. Marbury smiled in the face of such scorn. Whatever happens, he already has his dream game.

*

In another men's quarterfinal game, Italy defeated Puerto Rico, 83-70.

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