It was Chalk City in the Olympic quarterfinals. Will Friday's Final Four twinbill prove any different? Is a Spain-U.S. final inevitable, or will an underdog crash Sunday's gold-medal game? Here's a quick glance at the semis, where the winners can guarantee themselves a medal:
Spain (5-1) vs. Lithuania (5-1), 8 a.m. ET
Two of Europe's most decorated sides on the continental and world stages meet in the first semifinal. The Spanish are reigning world champs, with runner-up finishes at three of the past five EuroBasket tournaments. Meanwhile, the Lithuanians have medaled at three of the past four Olympics, adding a third European championship trophy to their silver case in 2003. They've both lived up to their traditions in Beijing, finishing group play with identical 4-1 marks and winning their quarterfinal matches comfortably.
Spain's deep and talented roster features seven current or former NBA players, including Pau Gasol, who earned his 100th cap for the national team in Wednesday's quarterfinal victory over Croatia, celebrating the occasion with 20 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. But what tiny Lithuania (pop. 3.5 million) lacks in Stateside name recognition -- its only two players with NBA experience are former Pacers and Warriors guard Sarunas Jasikevicius and current Nuggets forward Linas Kleiza -- it compensates for with hard work and a team-driven, equal-opportunity offensive approach. (And it's worked: Lithuania is the tournament's third-highest-scoring team, after the U.S. and Australia, without having a single player among the top 15 scoring leaders.) But Spain's loss to the U.S. on Saturday was just its third defeat in international play since 2005, along with a pair of one-point losses to Croatia and Russia in 2007. Lithuania should push the Spanish into the second half but won't be able to overcome its opponent's depth advantage over 40 minutes.
Prediction: Spain 88, Lithuania 80
United States (6-0) vs. Argentina (5-1), 10:15 a.m. ET
They're best known as the Redeem Team, but wouldn't the Ghostbusters be more appropriate? The Americans have stared down their demons throughout the Olympic tournament, avenging their shocking loss to Greece in the 2006 FIBA World Championship and undressing world champion Spain, which many observers considered equal or superior to the Americans. Next stop on Exorcism Tour '08 is Argentina, a group that defeated the United States at the Athens Olympics and the 2002 worlds.
Manu Ginobili is the motor for the Albiceleste, as his game-high 24 points and gutsy fourth-quarter performance against Greece on Tuesday would indicate. Carlos Delfino, Andres Nocioni and Luis Scola are NBA-proven talents who have helped shoulder the offensive load throughout the tournament. The Argentines have made more three-pointers (59) than any other team in Beijing. If they catch fire from beyond the arc, take care of the basketball, slow the tempo to minimize their opponent's depth advantage, catch the U.S. on a poor shooting night and carry a lead into the second half, they might be able to tighten up an American team that has yet to face a gut-check situation in this tournament.
But the reality appears grim: The U.S. has averaged 105.2 points in its six victories, rolling by an average margin of 32 points. The Americans have shot 64.7 percent from the floor, an outrageously high clip. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard have taken turns looking like the single most dominant basketball player in the world. Considering Team USA's form throughout this tournament and its dozen-deep stable, Argentina would be fortunate to keep this result within single digits.
Prediction: United States 105, Argentina 84
What are you expecting in the semifinals? Let us know below.
Full time: Another day, another routine 31-point blowout [BOX SCORE]. You could really trace the turning point of this contest back to the Deron Williams buzzer-beating three-pointer to end the first half. Instead of heading to the locker room nursing a single-digit lead, Team USA strutted confidently off the court with a 55-43 advantage -- just a three-point difference but a considerable psychological edge. The momentum carried over into the second half, where the U.S. put the Australians away with 14 unanswered points to open the third quarter. Kobe Bryant powered the Americans with a game-high 25 points -- the highest single-game total for a U.S. player in Beijing -- on 10-for-16 shooting. But game ball goes (once again) to LeBron James, who filled the stat sheet with 16 points, nine boards, four steals and three assists.
1:00, 4th: It's Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Michael Redd, Tayshaun Prince and Carlos Boozer on mop-up duty for Team USA.
1:40, 4th: Carlos Boozer scores to re-extend the U.S. lead to 111-81. With the reserve forward's bucket, every U.S. player has gotten into offensive mix.
3:36, 4th: Deron Williams corrals the rebound off a Brad Newley miss and fires a 60-foot pass to Michael Redd, who tries to dart toward the basket for a punctuating slam dunk. But Australia's Joe Ingles won't give him the satisfaction, casually stepping in the way for a foul 20 feet from the goal.
6:05, 4th: A LeBron James two-pointer pushes the U.S. team past the century mark for the third straight game and the fourth time during this tournament.
6:27, 4th: Another long three-pointer from Bryant opens the lead to 99-67. Kobe's got a game-high 25 points, the most any U.S. player has logged in a single game during this tournament.
7:41, 4th: Kobe buries a three-pointer from San Francisco to open the lead to 96-67. The U.S. has made 9-of-23 attempts from beyond the arc after going 2-of-10 to start the game.
8:16, 4th: Michael Redd gets into the scorebook with a jumper.
End, 3rd: So much for drama. The Americans outscored their opponents 34-18 during the third quarter to stake a commanding 89-61 lead with 10 minutes left. They've all but punched their ticket to the semifinals.
1:22, 3rd: Glen Saville converts a four-point play and it's 85-59. Where the action between players was a little chippy during the first half, this third quarter has really taken the wind out of Australia's sails. They've internalized their defiance.
2:20, 3rd: Bosh drains a pair of fouls to put the U.S. ahead by an even 30 points. Team USA has tripled up the Australians during the third frame by a 27-9 margin.
4:19, 3rd: Chris Bosh throws down a two-handed dunk off a beautiful assist from LeBron. Some attractive, tiki-taka passing from the U.S. They're really rolling now.
5:34, 3rd: LeBron James fails to convert an old-fashioned three-point play but his made field goal puts the U.S. ahead 71-46. Just a dominating stretch of basketball to start the second half for the Redeem Team.
6:21, 3rd: Matt Nielsen misses a pair of foul shots and the Boomers are still stuck on 43 points, where they've been since the 1:46 mark of the second frame.
6:35, 3rd: Kobe Bryant strokes another three-pointer to extend a 14-0 run for the United States in this quarter.
8:00, 3rd: Another take and another make for Jason Kidd. He's 2-for-2 today and 4-for-4 in this tournament. They're going to start calling this guy "Get Buckets" the way he's shooting the ball! Team USA leads 66-43.
9:08, 3rd: Carmelo Anthony nails another three. That's three consecutive trifectas for the U.S. team, extending a 9-0 run spanning halftime. Just like that, the Americans find themselves in command with 19 minutes and change remaining in regulation.
9:34, 3rd: Kobe Bryant, who's struggled with his stroke from beyond the arc during this tourney, buries a three-pointer to open the U.S. lead to 58-43.
10:00, 3rd: Same starters for both sides to start the third quarter.
Halftime: It was hardly a perfect performance, but Australia can't be disappointed with the way the first half transpired. Team USA is doubling up the Boomers on the glass -- staking a 26-13 rebounding advantage -- and they're shooting an even 50.0 percent from the floor. But the Aussies remain within striking distance thanks to Team USA's cold performance from the line (10-of-20, 50.0 percent) and even colder three-point shooting (3-of-13, 23.1 percent). LeBron James is leading the way for the Americans with a game-high 12 points, seven rebounds and three steals. Brad Newley and Patrick Mills pace Australia with eight points apiece.
0:00.0, 2nd: Deron Williams bangs a three-pointer at the buzzer to open Team USA's largest lead of the game at 55-43.
0:27.7, 2nd: The U.S. has taken Australia behind the woodshed on the glass, on the offensive end in particular. Kobe Bryant just grabbed Team USA's 11th offensive rebound of the game before scoring on a fadeaway in the lane.
1:35, 2nd: ... and Newley sinks a three-pointer to close the U.S. lead to 50-43. Australia is 4-of-8 on three-point attempts today.
2:04, 2nd: LeBron James slashes toward the rim and deposits a lay-in to open the advantage to 10 points -- the largest lead of the half ...
3:35, 2nd: Kobe makes a shot while getting fouled but misses the free throw. The U.S. is just 9-of-18 from the line. They're similarly frigid from beyond the arc, making just 2-of-10 shots from three-point range.
3:47, 2nd: Newley sinks a pair of fouls to pull Australia within seven points. It appears the Boomers have weathered a second Team USA storm ...
4:01, 2nd: LeBron powers his way toward the goal through the teeth of the zone and draws a foul from David Andersen. The shot falls but James can't convert the three-point play. The U.S. has made just 7-of-14 shots from the stripe so far.
5:43, 2nd: An Australia turnover leads to an easy LeBron James bucket and the U.S. team has its largest lead of the game at 41-32. After taking such good care of the ball during the early stages, the Boomers have started to slip.
6:42, 2nd: Wade scores in transition and the U.S. has used a 7-2 spurt over about a minute-and-a-half to open the lead to seven points. Brian Goorjian calls a timeout to settle his charges down.
7:04, 2nd: Bryant embarrasses David Andersen off the dribble and throws down a vicious one-handed dunk.
7:52, 2nd: James opens the lead back up to five points with a slam dunk. Australia's only turned it over three times so far.
8:40, 2nd: Another basket from Mills, this time in transition, to help the Aussies keep pace with the gradually awakening Americans. Mills has eight points off the bench. Team USA leads 30-28.
9:40, 2nd: Dwyane Wade drives the length of the court and puts down an acrobatic lay-up while drawing a Patrick Mills foul. He sinks the free throw for another three-point play.
End, 1st: The U.S. outrebounded Australia by a 20-8 margin during the first frame but only lead 25-24 through 10 minutes.
0:04.5, 1st: With the shot-clock turned off, Mills beat Chris Paul down left side of the lane and tosses up a short banker while drawing the foul. The whistle blows, the shot falls, the crowd roars. But Mills misses the free throw and a chance to tie the score.
0:45.4, 1st: The U.S. misses in the paint but the loose ball is punched out to Carmelo Anthony all alone at the top of the key. Melo cans a three-pointer to put the U.S. back ahead 24-21.
1:01, 1st: We're tied at 21 apiece after Glen Saville cans a pair of free throws. The reserve guard drew a foul on Dwyane Wade to put Australia in the bonus.
1:40, 1st: Another Anstey basket -- his sixth and seventh points -- closes the hole to 21-19. Australia is doing a great job of getting high-percentage looks near the basket out of their Princeton-style offense.
3:19, 1st: Anstey just canned an NBA-length three to close the deficit to 20-17. You've got to respect the way Australia has fought back after taking Team USA's early punches. They've trailed by as many as nine points.
4:30, 1st: The much-maligned Jason Kidd has just taken his third shot of this entire tournament. It's good. (He's actually made all three!)
4:53, 1st: Mills and David Barlow have canned three-pointers on consecutive possessions to pull Australia within 15-12. Some defensive lapses there for the U.S.
5:52, 1st: Patrick Mills just entered the game for Australia. College hoops junkies might recognize his Mills from March Madness, where the freshman guard scored 24 points and dished five assists against Miami in a first-round loss.
6:35, 1st: ... but Brad Newley flies downcourt and gets a cheap lay-up.
6:41, 1st: LeBron James dribbles past his defender and calmly buries a three-pointer to give the U.S. a 12-3 lead ...
7:18, 1st: Andrew Bogut just picked up his second foul but he's staying in the game
8:13, 1st: The U.S. is really attacking Andrew Bogut on offense, pounding the ball inside to Dwight Howard. Howard drew a foul while shooting on a previous possession but clanked both free throws. This time, Howard makes a shot while Bogut fouls. He sinks the freebie to convert the old-fashioned three-point play.
9:05, 1st: Carmelo Anthony sinks a jumper to open the scoring.
10:00, 1st: It's Jason Kidd, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard wearing white for Team USA. C.J. Bruton, David Barlow, Brad Newley, Matt Nielsen and Andrew Bogut wearing green for Australia.
* * *
Team USA is a 32-point favorite today against Australia in their quarterfinal clash. Here are three reasons why you'd have to be crazy to lay those points:
1. Australia is the tourney's best three-point shooting team. As any March Madness initiate can tell you, the three-pointer is the great equalizer. In a one-off situation, sometimes a scorching hot shooting night is all it takes. The Boomers are the best three-point shooting team in the field, having connected on 44.4 percent (48-of-108) of their shots from beyond the arc in five games. In completely undressing the previously unbeaten Lithuanian team in Monday's group stage finale, Australia made 16-of-25 shots from downtown.
2. They've got the equipment up front. Twin seven-footers Andrew Bogut and Chris Anstey team with 6-11 David Andersen and 6-10 Matt Nielsen to comprise perhaps the most formidable frontcourt in Beijing. (By the way, Bogut and Anstey can take and make the international three: Each player was 3-for-3 from beyond the arc against Lithuania.)
3. They know they can hang with the U.S. Of the 10 games the Redeem Team has played since leaving the U.S. -- five exhibitions and five group stage contests -- Australia offered the stiffest challenge on Aug. 5 in the final pre-Olympic tune-up. The Aussies trailed by just four points midway through the third frame before the U.S. used a 13-2 spurt to pull away for an eventual 87-76 victory. And this was without Andrew Bogut, who's paced the Boomers in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots during the Olympic tourney.
What a difference nine days makes.
Sure, the U.S. men's hoops team tipped off the Olympic tournament on Aug. 10 as the favorite on paper. But nobody who follows the international scene would have been floored if the latest collection of American superstars flopped in Beijing. Not after Indianapolis in 2002. Not after Athens in 2004. Not after Japan in 2006.
Instead, Team USA has overachieved for a change. And on the eve of the single-elimination knockout round -- having dispensed of its five group stage opponents by an average margin of 32.2 points -- it's already being crowned.
Germany coach Dirk Baurermann called the U.S. team "unbeatable" on Monday, following his team's 106-57 dismantling at the hands of the Americans. Meanwhile, bar-room debates Stateside have turned from whether Team USA can bring home the gold medal to whether it could have given the original Dream Team a challenge.
Assistant coach Jim Boeheim did his best to temper the resurgent expectations Monday on the Dan Patrick Show, calling the Redeem Team's overwhelming margin of victory "deceptive" since European teams tend to shut down during the preliminary round when they fall behind by 20 points. He's right to dial down the hype. As invincible as the U.S. has looked, there are seven other teams in this tournament -- and the medal round's single-elimination format leaves the most powerful Goliath at the mercy of freak luck (if David's unconscious from downtown).
So with the knockout stage getting underway early Wednesday morning at Wukesong Indoor Stadium, here's a game-by-game look at the quarterfinal quadrupleheader:
Croatia (3-2) vs. Spain (4-1), 2:30 a.m. ET
The Croats have made the most of their first Olympic trip in 12 years, emerging as dark horses to bring home a medal with victories over Australia and Russia in their first two games. Combo guard Zoran Planinic, who spent three years with the Nets, has averaged 11.8 points on 56.7 percent shooting from the floor (including 9-for-18 from beyond the arc). Roko Ukic, a July signing by the Raptors, has also excelled at the point. But Jasmin Repesa's squad got a bum draw with the Spanish, the reigning world champions with seven former or current NBA players on their roster. Spain rebounded nicely from Saturday's humbling blowout against the U.S. with a 98-50 rout of Angola. Look for Aíto García Reneses' squad to ride the momentum from Monday into the semifinals and beyond.
Prediction: Spain 72, Croatia 62
China (2-3) vs. Lithuania (4-1), 4:45 a.m. ET
The hosts dug out of an 0-2 hole to salvage a place in the medal round thanks to victories over Angola and Germany. But while Yao Ming has turned in a typically thorough performance -- averaging 19.0 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks -- China's three losses to elite-level opponents came by double digits. Meanwhile, Lithuania brought a 4-0 record into its preliminary round finale before suffering a shocking 31-point blowout to Australia. It still won Group A on a tie-breaker -- with Nuggets forward Linas Kleiza averaging 13.8 points and 5.8 boards -- but it's hardly the kind of momentum Ramunas Butautas' team wanted to carry into the medal round. Expect China to play on emotion out of the gate and push its opponent early before losing reach of Lithuania after the break.
Prediction: Lithuania 84, China 69
Australia (3-2) vs. United States (5-0), 8 a.m. ET
The Australian team presents a curious quarterfinal matchup for the United States. The Boomers have the size and grit -- if not the skill -- to match the Americans. But Brian Goorjian's squad enters the game with confidence after giving the U.S. team a stiff challenge on Aug. 5 in the final pre-Olympic exhibition for both teams. Playing without centerpiece Andrew Bogut, the Aussies trailed by just four points midway through the third quarter before the U.S. used a 13-2 spurt to pull away for an eventual 87-76 victory. Sure, the U.S. enters the knockout round in stratospheric form, with a trail of demoralized opponents in its wake. But Australia throttled the previously undefeated Lithuanians by 31 points on Monday, knocking down 16-of-25 shots from beyond the arc (in just 40 minutes) while forcing 25 turnovers. If Australia makes 16 treys on Wednesday, the Americans will assuredly face their first gut-check situation of the entire tournament. But whether the Boomers can even get those kind of looks against Team USA's suffocating perimeter defense is the real question.
Prediction: United States 98, Australia 75
Greece (3-2) vs. Argentina (4-1), 10:15 a.m. ET
The marquee matchup of the quarterfinals pits the reigning Olympic champions against the runner-up of the most recent FIBA World Championship. Manu Ginobili is averaging a tournament-high 19.6 points after spiriting the Albiceleste to a gold medal at the Athens Games, where the rough-and-tumble shooting guard became the first player in history to win an Olympic gold medal, an NBA championship and a Euroleague title. Fellow NBA veterans Luis Scola (19.2) and Andres Nocioni (13.0) and former NBA guard Carlos Delfino (10.6) have also helped shoulder the scoring load, with Scola's tournament-best 37-point outburst helping sink Russia on Monday. When it comes to players with NBA ties, the Greeks (zero) fall far short of the Argentines (five). But 10 of their 12 players play for either Olympiacos or Panathinaikos -- essentially the Lakers and Celtics of the Greek League -- infusing this side with a chemistry and communication often absent from opposing national teams. Look for these closely matched sides to provide the most dramatic clash of the quarterfinals.
Prediction: Argentina 77, Greece 74
What are your predictions for Wednesday's quarterfinals? Let us know in the comments below.
Full time: Five up, five down for Team USA. The Americans have capped off group play with an emphatic 49-point thrashing of Germany [BOX SCORE]. Another very impressive performance from the clearly motivated U.S. team. Dwight Howard led the way with a double-double -- 22 points and 10 boards -- with LeBron James (18 points) and Kobe Bryant (13 points) aiding the winning effort. Next up for Team USA is the medal round, with Australia looming in the quarterfinals. The game is scheduled for
10:15 a.m. ET 8:00 a.m. ET on Wednesday.
2:13, 4th: Boozer dunks it home to push the U.S. team past the century mark. It's 100-55.
4:54, 4th: Boozer receives a feed from Tayshaun Prince on the block, squares himself to the goal with a drop step and lays it up for his first two points of the game.
5:47, 4th: Bosh goes back to the line for a pair of fouls -- he makes them both -- as NBC pans to Michael Phelps in a black T-shirt and Lacoste cap slouched in the stands.
6:24, 4th: This game has been in garbage time almost from the start but Chris Bosh is out there working hard, making the most of his minutes. Just there, the power forward converted an old-fashioned three-point play to extend the U.S. lead to 90-53.
9:51, 4th: Chris Bosh puts down a lay-up for his first two points of the contest to open the fourth-quarter scoring.
End, 3rd: The U.S. holds a 37-point lead through three quarters. Dwight Howard has been straight dominant today, with a game-high 22 points on 9-of-10 shooting and 9 rebounds.
0:55.3, 3rd: Another acrobatic, highlight-reel play for Dwyane Wade: a beautiful up-and-under move to open the lead to 82-43.
4:26, 3rd: Chris Paul receives the ball all by himself beyond the arc on the baseline. He drains a three-pointer to open the U.S. lead to 76-39. Team USA has made 11-of-19 shots from downtown today after shooting 19-of-65 during the first four games in Beijing.
4:46, 3rd: Dwyane Wade throws down a ridiculous dunk -- the highlight of the game -- while getting fouled by Germany's Steffen Hamann. The scoring play opens a 34-point lead for the U.S. team.
5:10, 3rd: Chris Paul feeds Dwight Howard in the post. The German defense collapses on the seven-footer but he rises above the fray to put down a four-foot jumper.
6:13, 3rd: Dirk Nowitzki is apparently still in the building. His three-pointer brings Germany within 66-39.
6:40, 3rd: Another three-pointer from Kobe Bryant -- his third straight trey of the frame -- re-extends the U.S. lead to 30 points.
7:44, 3rd: Demond Greene cans a trifecta and, on the ensuing possession, receives an outlet pass and deposits a transition lay-up. The U.S.-born dual citizen has bucketed five quick points to pull Germany within 62-34.
8:31, 3rd: Kobe Bryant rattles home a three-pointer from the baseline, extending run of nine unanswered points for the U.S. in the third quarter.
9:46, 3rd: And Team USA starts the second half the same way it started the first: with a quick bucket. This time it's Dwight Howard, who muscles his way toward the goal and converts while drawing the foul. Howard drains the foul shot to complete the three-point play and open a 56-29 lead for the U.S.
10:00, 3rd: Starters on the floor for both sides to start the second half.
Halftime: Another awe-inspiring first half from Team USA, whose perfect record in group play appears to be perfectly safe. LeBron James leads all scorers with 17 points including 4-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc.
0:02.7, 2nd: And Kobe Bryant's lay-up to break the German run should close the first-half scoring.
0:36.5, 2nd: Germany has put together a quick 8-0 burst -- its largest run of the game -- thanks to a pair of Dirk Nowitzki free throws, a Sven Schultze lay-up, two more Dirk foul shots and another Schultze lay-up. The scores pull the German team within 51-29.
2:37, 2nd: Carlos Boozer and Michael Redd enter the game for Team USA, which has opened a 30-point lead. Mike Krzyzewski has already emptied his entire bench before the break.
4:06, 2nd: Jason Kidd, with his defender on a string, drives to his left and floats a perfect alley-oop offering into the lane. Dwight Howard catches the pass in mid-air and throws it down for another highlight-reel dunk. It's 47-19.
5:53, 2nd: Yet another three-pointer for LeBron. 16 points in 10 minutes. Team USA extends the lead to 45-17.
6:25, 2nd: LeBron James buries a trifecta -- his third of the game -- to open the lead to 42-17. That's his third three-pointer of the game and he's got 13 points in just 9 minutes.
8:12, 2nd: Paul cans a three-pointer to open the lead to 39-12. The U.S. continues to look sharp, showing no signs of letting up against its obviously overmatched opponent.
9:06, 2nd: Chris Paul scores to make it 36-12 and German coach Dirk Bauermann calls timeout to rail into his lethargic-looking squad.
End, 1st: No letdown from Team USA in this one. They appear as sharp as they've looked during any first quarter in this entire tournament, logging eight assists on 12 field goals while staking a 19-point lead.
0:27.5, 1st: An energetic sequence from Deron Williams near the end of the first quarter: The University of Illinois product takes it directly to Chris Kaman and deposits a lay-up to open the U.S. lead to 29-12. He immediately steals the inbounds pass around the three-point line and drives toward the goal, attempting to throw down a vicious one-handed dunk over the seven-footer Kaman. He can't finish the dunk but draws the foul and sinks both free throws to open a 31-12 advantage.
2:19, 1st: Dirk Nowitzki gets onto the board with an old-fashioned three-point play, drawing a foul from Chris Bosh, but goes to the bench for a puff after converting the free throw.
2:58, 1st: LeBron James cans a three-pointer to open the lead to 23-5. It's a little early to call this one -- what with nearly 33 minutes remaining in regulation -- but it doesn't look like the German team has the horses to hang with this deep, talented and motivated American squad.
3:33, 1st: It's starting to look like Team USA has channeled the Harlem Globetrotters. LeBron James just logged style points with a beautiful finish on a three-on-one fast break to open the lead to 20-3. The scoring play extends a 12-0 run for the Americans.
5:11, 1st: Kobe Bryant drives the lane and misses a one-handed dunk to the dismay of the adoring crowd. Germany fails to convert on the other end and Kobe finds Dwight Howard for an easy two. That's 8 points early for the former No. 1 overall pick. Just like that, Team USA leads 16-3.
6:52, 1st: Sven Schultze gets Germany on the board with a three-pointer to close the U.S. lead to 9-3.
7:40, 1st: Some sloppy passing early from LeBron -- his second turnover of the game -- but Germany can't take advantage on the opposite end.
8:30, 1st: Jason Kidd attempts his second shot of the entire Olympic tournament. It falls and the U.S. leads 6-0.
9:57, 1st: LeBron James opens the scoring just three seconds into regulation with a quick lay-up directly off the tip.
10:00, 1st: It's Jason Kidd, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard wearing white for Team USA. Steffen Hamann, Sven Schultze, Demond Greene, Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman have gotten the call for Germany.
* * *
We're about to get underway with Team USA's fifth and final preliminary group game from Wukesong Indoor Stadium in Beijing.
Full time: As rocky as today's game was for your faithful narrator and his dubious Internet connection (I'm still on hold), it was a dozen times worse for the Spanish national team. Whatever mental edge they carried into this tournament as reigning world champions was emphatically overturned. Team USA is no longer a co-favorite to win the gold medal in the Aug. 24 tournament final; within 40 minutes, they've become the runaway, overwhelming choice. And any team who manages to derail the Redeem Team at this point will have pulled off one of the greater upsets in a generation. Game ball goes to LeBron James, who finished with a game-high 18 points (to lead eight U.S. players in double figures) and seven assists. Honorable mention goes out to Jason Kidd, who attempted his first shot of the entire Olympic tournament during the third quarter ... and made it!
0:40.0, 4th: Tayshaun Prince just canned a three-pointer, extending a 27-11 which has blown this game wide open. United States 119, Spain 82. Statement game, anybody?
5:58, 4th: The U.S. just peeled off a pair of three-point scoring plays on back-to-back possessions to inch closer toward the century mark. Kobe Bryant calmly sank a shot from beyond the arc and, on the ensuing possession, Dwight Howard muscled his way for two points while drawing a foul on Marc Gasol. Howard converted the free throw to extend the U.S. lead to 99-71.
8:45, 4th: Dwyane Wade's basket extends a 10-2 run which has seen the Team USA advantage balloon to 27 points.
End, 3rd: Chris Bosh throws down a dunk with 13 seconds remaining in the quarter on a pass from LeBron James, who's logged five assists today. The scoring play opens the Team USA advantage to 87-63.
4:30, 3rd: I'm not sure even the most optimistic U.S. supporters expected the Americans to dominate the reigning world champions quite like this. Spain has tried everything -- from switching their defensive looks to shortening their player rotations -- in an effort to contain the Americans. Nothing has worked. LeBron sinks a pair of fouls to re-extend the U.S. lead to 20 points.
5:04, 3rd: We're back on the grid after our second Internet outage of the day and not much has changed at the Wukesong Indoor Stadium in Beijing, where the United States continues to have its way with the Spanish. Juan Carlos Navarro just split a pair of fouls to pull Spain within 74-55 -- but Chris Paul responds on the opposite end to extend the U.S. lead to 21 points.
Halftime: The first rule of journalism is never put yourself in the story, but I'd be remiss not to apologize about the Internet issues I've endured during today's first half. Here's hoping Time Warner gets me off hold and squared away for the last 20 minutes. As for the game -- not sure it could have gone much better for the U.S. during the first half. They lead 61-45, they're knocking down their outside jumpers and playing suffocating defense, as the 19 forced turnovers would indicate.
1:24, 2nd: Ricky Rubio throws a beauitful alley-oop pass to Rudy Fernandez. The crowd oohs and aahs but the good-looking play still only cuts the American lead to 57-42.
2:48, 2nd: Chris Paul sinks a pair of fouls to open the lead to 56-36, as the camera pans to a bunch of dejected-looking Spanish players -- incluidng Pau Gasol -- on the bench.
3:56, 2nd: Some very attractive ball movement for the U.S. in the half-court set as they're really making Spain work and expend energy on defense. The ball ends in the hand of a wide-open Deron Williams, who calmly sinks a three-pointer to open a 52-36 lead. The U.S. is 7-for-10 from downtown in the first half.
5:39, 2nd: Just seconds after sinking a three-pointer to give the U.S. its largest lead of the game at 45-31, Kobe Bryant picks up his third personal foul and goes to the bench. Dwyane Wade back in for Team USA. The U.S. team has struggled with their outside shooting in this tournament but it's shot 6-fot-9 from beyond the arc today.
7:34, 2nd: Another Spain turnover and it's Kobe Bryant with nobody between him and the basket. The Lakers forward rises toward the rim and throws down a beautiful reverse jam as the flash bulbs pop. Beautiful.
8:30, 2nd: Prince has his fingerprints all over this game. The Pistons forward just threw a 40-foot alley-oop pass to LeBron, who threw down a ferocious one-handed dunk to open the lead to 36-24.
8:49, 2nd: And just like that, Prince gets into the book with a three-pointer in the corner to open the lead to 34-24.
10:00, 2nd: Tayshaun Prince, who could barely get on the court in the Greece game, has entered the game for the Americans. Mike Krzyzewski is tapping into his NBA-laden roster early to exploit Team USA's depth advantage.
End, 1st: A poor first quarter for our blogging efforts but an excellent frame for Team USA. The Americans forced 10 turnovers and scored 31 points to stake a nine-point lead through 10 minutes. Spain switched over to a zone defense late in the quarter to give the U.S. a different look -- and it briefly appeared to work as Spain went on a quick 6-0 run to cut the deficit to seven points. But the U.S. closed the quarter with a Dwyane Wade dunk to re-open the lead to nine.
0:40.0, 1st: Spain rattles off six quick points -- on three straight field goals -- to cut the U.S. lad to 29-22.
1:42, 1st: Chris Paul sucks in a rebound and fires an outlet pass to Wade, who sprints downcourt and deposits a lay-up to open a 29-16 lead for the Americans. Spain calls a timeout to re-organize. LeBron leads all scorers with nine points so far -- but it's Carmelo Anthony's outside shooting which has really impressed in the early stages.
2:31, 1st: Anthony hits a three-pointer to open a 23-15 edge, his second trifecta of the quarter.
3:21, 1st: We've overcome some early technical difficulties early to regain our connection just as Dwyane Wade gets a steal and travels the length of the court for an emphatic dunk to open an 18-13 lead -- the largest lead of the day for the U.S.
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The last meeting in a major tournament between Spain and the United States came in the quarterfinals of the 2004 Olympics, when Team USA briefly quelled the growing mob of doubters with a 102-94 victory over the previously undefeated Spanish. Stephon Marbury set the U.S. national team single-game scoring record with 31 points in the contest, spiriting Team USA to its most significant victory of the tournament. But instead of righting the foundering Team USA ship, the triumph gave the Americans a false sense of confidence going into a semifinal clash with Argentina, where an 89-81 defeat would seal their fate.
But the Spain game may be best remembered for a faux pas committed by the Americans late in the game. With 23 seconds remaining and the U.S. holding a 101-90 lead, Team USA coach Larry Brown called a timeout to settle down his young charges and to organize the press break. But to call timeout late in a game with a double-digit lead is considered a sign of disrespect in European hoops -- and Brown's decision drew vociferous boos from the Athens crowd, stoking the dormant anti-American sentiment in the audience. After the game, Spain coach Mario Pesquera approached Brown in anger and assistant coaches had to separate the two.
The episode provides an interesting if completely unintentional metaphor for the U.S. team's struggle to adjust to the ways and customs of the international game since winning gold at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. But this year's Americans, inspired and tempered by eight years of humiliation on the world stage, appear poised to bring the gold medal stateside once again.