Join Date: Jul 2002
Location: Guanajuato, México
NBA-powered U.S. team finally falls
INDIANAPOLIS -- Argentina pulled off a victory that until recently was believed to be nearly impossible, defeating the United States 87-80 on Wednesday night at the men's basketball World Championships.
It was the first loss ever for a U.S. team in 59 games since the Americans began sending NBA players to international tournaments in 1992.
Argentina's victory was shocking in and of itself, but what made it even more incredible was the manner in which they accomplished it. The United States never led in the game, trailed by as many as 20 and couldn't mount an adequate comeback down the stretch.
The Argentine players leaped and hugged each other as the final buzzer sounded, while the American players stuck around and congratulated them. The Argentines then formed a tight huddle for several seconds before emerging with their hands raised to salute a small but vocal contingent of their fans in the lower seats at Conseco Fieldhouse.
The defeat did not knock the U.S. team out of the tournament, it merely gave them a lower seed for the medal round. There is a chance the teams can meet again before the tournament ends.
"It's not the medal round, and we'll be back to win the gold,'' defiant guard Baron Davis said.
This U.S. team had said it wanted to keep the unbeaten streak intact, but it also knew that the competition from around the world was not as weak as it once was. Like the U.S. team, Argentina won its first five games at the World Championships to set up a meeting of the only two nations with unblemished records.
Now, there's only one team with a perfect record.
"They were a lot better than we thought,'' Davis said. "They were just beating us every which way.''
U.S. teams had two close calls in the past two years, defeating Lithuania by just two points at the 2000 Olympics and needing overtime to beat Brazil at the Goodwill Games in 2001.
Many of the best American players declined to participate in this tournament, and this version of Team USA looked quite vulnerable over the past week -- especially against nations that now have their own NBA players.
"We are human beings and we dream. To say we were going to beat them, I did not know. I knew we had one of the best chances,'' Argentina guard Pepe Sanchez said. "We came to play, we came to compete. As the game unfolded, we said 'Wow, we could really do this.' ''
The first sign that emotions were high came less than four minutes into the game, when Paul Pierce was knocked down by Hugo Sconochini and then stuck his leg out in a deliberate attempt to trip him.
Pierce continued to go after Sconochini and was whistled for two holding fouls in the span of one second. That deprived the U.S. team of its most consistent offensive player, and they did not make a field goal for the next five minutes.
The emotional outbursts from the U.S. team kept coming.
Jermaine O'Neal picked up a flagrant foul late in the first quarter for shoving Scola to the ground after Scola rejected his dunk attempt, and the U.S. coaching staff ran onto the court at the end of the quarter to complain when Reggie Miller didn't get a call.
The frustration continued in the second quarter, when the Americans had trouble getting off decent shots. Argentina, on the other hand, used its crisp passing to repeatedly find players open under the basket for layups and dunks.
Andres Nocioni, who had a memorable dunk over Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan at the 1999 Olympic qualifier, unleashed another impressive jam over Ben Wallace early in the second quarter. He then stole the ensuing inbounds pass at midcourt and made two foul shots for a 41-23 lead.
A driving layup by Emanuel Ginobili gave Argentina a 52-32 lead with 1:14 left in the half.
"They have better talent, they have better training, but I think we played better today. You gotta believe,'' forward Luis Scola said.
Third-quarter rallies had become the U.S. team's forte in the first five games of this tournament, but this one took some time to commence.
The Americans got their deifcit down to a dozen early in the third on a 3-pointer by Pierce, but their offensive troubles wouldn't go away. After Ruben Wolkowyski hit a 3-pointer from the corner to make it 62-47, Andre Miller sped into the lane and got inside for a layup that rolled in and out.
Pierce hit a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 64-57, sparking the first chant of "U-S-A'' heard during the entire tournament. But the Argentine fans were back on their feet at the end of the quarter after Ginobili scored on a drive for a 68-60 lead entering the fourth.
The final period began after a brief chanting duel between the fans of the two countries, but the Amerian fans fell silent -- aside from their gasps -- as Argentina twice got open for layups off inbounds passes with the shot clock about to expire.
A 24-second violation and a turnover by the U.S. were answered by a pair of daring driving layups by Ginobili and Sconochini, upping the lead to 76-63 with 5:55 left.
O'Neal was incredulous when he was called for a loose ball foul with 4:23 left, and the American players had blank looks on their faces as they shuffled back to the bench during a timeout.
Baron Davis scored inside and then dunked (and hung onto the rim, showing off) off an Argentina turnover to make it 80-71 with 2:28 left. Another turnover was followed by four consecutive misses by the U.S. team -- two of them from right underneath the basket.
A charging foul against Michael Finley ended the next U.S. possession, and a blocking foul on Davis led to a pair of foul shots by Nocioni for an 83-73 lead with 1:10 left.
A missed foul shot by Miller, an off-target 3 by Davis and a turnover and foul by Pierce comprised the next three U.S. possessions.