SAPPORO, Japan -- As his team left the locker room at
halftime trailing Italy by nine points, captain Dwyane Wade broke
"I was walking out and everybody was quiet and I just started singing something that came to mind," Wade said Wednesday night. "I just came off the NBA Finals, where my team had been down a lot [two games to none]. I don't ever worry about being down. And I don't want my teammates to worry about it, either."
After the game, Wade couldn't remember what he sang. But it proved to be the right tune, with the Americans surging back to beat Italy 94-85 in the FIBA World Championship.
Anthony scored 29 of his points in 19 electrifying minutes in the second half.
"I think I got it going after a tip-in from the free throw
line," he said. "I knew once my outside shot was going it was
going to open it up for my inside driving."
Wade said he had never seen Anthony that hot, at least not in person.
"When he's got it going, it's a beautiful thing because you don't know what he's going to do," Wade said. "He got it going at the right time."
Wade scored 26 points and Elton Brand added 16 as the U.S. clinched Group D. That means the U.S. will avoid Argentina or Spain, two of the tournament's powers, until the final. The Americans will play the fourth-place team in Group C on Sunday.
Marco Bellinelli led Italy with 25 points while Fabio Di Bella and Stefano Mancinelli each added 12.
After routing three overmatched opponents, the Americans were prepared for a tough test from Italy, the group's only other unbeaten team. But they didn't know how tough.
"I would say tougher than expected," Brand said. "Because if you ask me if I expected to be down nine points at halftime, I would say no."
The Americans were lucky to be that close. Their offense, which had averaged a tournament-high 115.3 points, was sluggish from the start.
The U.S. shot 39 percent in the first half, including 33 percent from 3-point range. The Americans also were dreadful from the foul
line, hitting 63 percent (12-for-19).
The defense wasn't much better. Every time the U.S. tried to
pressure the Italians, the ball would end up in a wide-open
shooter's hands. Italy shot 58 percent in the first half, including
72 percent from inside the arc.
Searching for an answer, U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski decided to
scrap his two five-man platoons and put captains Wade, Anthony and LeBron James on the floor at the same time, along with Brand and
point guard Chris Paul. Wade, Anthony and James rarely played
together during the first three games.
"The team kind of sensed that we needed some kind of spark,"
James said. "Coach made an adjustment at halftime, and it was a
great adjustment. We play well together because, for one, we don't
have any egos. We know each other's games, so it worked pretty
Wade had liked the two-team rotation but knew that Krzyzewski
wanted to put his big three together at some point. "It's
something he's been waiting to do," Wade said. "It was time. We
really went out there as captains and led the way back. That's our
Bellinelli opened the second half with a three-point play to put
Italy up 48-36. Then the U.S. blitzed the Italians, outscoring them
25-6. Anthony and Wade scored 21 of those points.
By the end of the third quarter, the Americans led 71-64 and, for them, all was right in the worlds. Italy drew within three but
never had a chance to take the lead the rest of the way.
"Every shot that our guys took in the second half was a
pressure shot because there was pressure on them," Krzyzewski
said. "I love them. I got so excited coaching them during that
time. I love the heart that they showed."
They also showed some toughness. Tempers flared several times as
the Americans objected to Italy's physical play.
Midway through the third quarter, Italy's Matteo Soragna was
whistled for elbowing Anthony in the chest. Bad move.
Anthony responded by drilling a 3-pointer that cut the Italians'
lead to 52-51. Moments later, Wade took a feed from James and
jammed on a fast break to put the U.S. ahead. Italy led for 14
seconds the rest of the way.
"Maybe they were trying it not because they think we're soft
but because they think we'll lose our head or lose our cool," Wade
said. "But this team, we're on a different path, a different
mind-set. We're out here to win ballgames. But we're not going to
be punked, either."