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BEIJING 2008 : MEN'S BASKETBALL

Wait for Greece rematch is over

August 14, 2008|Mark Heisler | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING -- Greece, Greece, Greece . . . isn't that name familiar from somewhere?

Birthplace of Western civilization? The Acropolis? The Parthenon? The plays of Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus? "The Iliad"? "The Odyssey"?

Wait, wasn't it Greece that knocked off U.S. Coach Mike Krzyzewski's first team at the world championships in Saitama, Japan, in 2006?

That's it!

Let's have a big U.S. welcome for the Greeks!

"First of all, we've been waiting for this game for the last two years," said Carmelo Anthony, one of six current U.S. players in that game with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh, of today's rematch in a Group B game.

"I'm pretty sure I'm sick and tired and they are sick and tired of hearing about Greece. But we just got to approach it as another game, another team that's in our way for the gold medal."

The 101-95 loss might have been the third-most-devastating defeat for a U.S. national team, after the Americans' first two to the Soviet Union, at Munich, Germany, in 1972 and Seoul in 1988.

The 2004 team was 5-3 at Athens but was such a train wreck, opening with a 92-73 loss to Puerto Rico, none of those defeats stood out.

Two years later, however, with a new program run by Krzyzewski and former Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo specifying three-year commitments and plenty of time to prepare, the U.S. sailed into the semifinals of the world championships at 7-0, despite some close calls, notably a 94-85 victory over Italy in which the Americans trailed by 12 points in the third quarter.

Still, no one was ready for what happened against Greece, considered only one of several good European teams.

The U.S. led by 12 early, fell behind, then came apart at the end as Greece scored on pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll, most run by guard Vassilis Spanoulis and center Sofoklis Schortsianitis, a Clippers draftee also known as "Baby Shaq."

"I remember that we missed a ton of free throws [14 of their 34]," Anthony said. "And the pick-and-roll game, we couldn't adjust to the pick-and-roll game. By the time we adjusted, the game was over.

"I was stunned. If you can see the footage from that game, I didn't want to get off the court after the game."

U.S. scout Tony Ronzone, the Detroit Pistons' player personnel director in his day job, broke the video down and counted 42 pick-and-rolls.

"How many did they score on?" he was asked.

"I don't want to know that stat," Ronzone said.

If it was a hard way to learn how to defend that play, the U.S. has. This U.S. team, which is relatively small by U.S. standards, is also exceptionally athletic with big men such as Howard and Bosh nimble enough to get out on shooters.

In an exhibition with Lithuania, another U.S. nemesis, the U.S. shut that vaunted pick-and-roll game down completely with Kobe Bryant hounding guard Sarunas Jasikevicius.

The U.S. hasn't shut anyone down here in ho-hum victories over China and Angola, so it'll be good to see their old friends from Greece, the U.S. players hope.

--

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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