ISTANBUL, Turkey -- One week before its opener at the Athens
Games, the U.S. men's Olympic team took a step backward -- even
though the Americans didn't quite see it that way.
The American team blew most of a 14-point fourth-quarter lead
against a Turkish team missing Hedo Turkoglu, one of its two NBA
players, before coming away with a 79-67 victory Sunday night. It
was not an encouraging performance for the Americans, who again
struggled against a team that didn't even qualify for the Olympics
-- just as happened earlier on their European trip against Germany.
A 19-8 run including several of Turkey's 11 3-pointers narrowed
the home team's deficit to 68-65 with 3½ minutes left before the
U.S. team turned up its defensive pressure to close out the game.
"It was a good experience for us because we're going to have
games like this (in Athens) when there is some adversity and they
start making shots against us," coach Larry Brown said. "We're
just going to have to deal with it."
Most alarming for the Americans was the way the team's core of
youngsters, including LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and
Dwyane Wade, couldn't keep Turkey from making a game of it down the
stretch. Though Brown admitted he was tempted to leave his
youngsters in, he reinserted the team's elder statesmen, Duncan and
Iverson, who steadied the team to help close out the victory.
"I am happy that we're getting better and starting to become a
team, but we have a ways to go," Iverson said. "As long as we
recognize we have to do more, we'll be all right. If we felt like
we were there, it would be something to worry about."
With Turkoglu out because of a broken nose, Ibrahim Kutluay led
Turkey with 19 points and Serkan Erdogan added 17. Both players
combined for a flurry of 3s that thrilled the a crowd of about
10,000 at the hot, cramped Abdi Ipekci Arena, a low-ceilinged gym
that would be considered a bandbox by NBA standards.
And when Turkey made its rally, the noise level was intense.
"I don't know if we'll play in an environment any better than
this," Brown said, "and I think the players really enjoyed the
But some of them clearly didn't.
Starting point guard Stephon Marbury struggled again, earning a
technical foul for arguing with a referee and going scoreless in 19
minutes. Wade also earned a technical for defiantly rolling the
ball away from an official following a call he didn't like, and
Duncan shot several angry gazes at the referees when they failed to
call fouls when he was being hacked.
But unlike many of the younger players, Duncan never lost his
cool and played the role of go-to guy to perfection.
Even with NBA player Mehmet Okur defending him, Duncan was his
usual efficient self while shooting 8-for-12, grabbing eight
rebounds and blocking two shots in 29 minutes.
The Americans missed all six of their 3-point attempts but still
shot 60 percent from the field, while Kutluay and Erdogan made five
"The big thing was that in the last three minutes I don't know
if Turkey scored after we went back to our first unit," Brown
said. "The key was we didn't panic, righted ourselves and played
with great poise down the stretch."
The teams will play again Tuesday night, and the Americans plan
to travel to Athens on Thursday.