U.S. survives test, holds on to edge Brazil 70-68

ISTANBUL (AP) Derrick Rose thought it was going in. So did Leandro Barbosa, who shot it.

Instead, Brazil’s attempt to tie at the buzzer fell out, and the United States remained unbeaten, though no longer unchallenged.

A world championship won’t come
easily for this young team – if it comes at all – so the Americans
believe their 70-68 victory over Brazil on Monday will help them in the
later rounds.

“Sometimes family that goes through
adversity gets a little better,” center Lamar Odom said. “It’s a game
we probably needed. Probably a good tuneup, especially going into the
medal rounds, trying to finish up this tournament.”

Kevin Durant scored 27 points and
Chauncey Billups added 15 for the Americans (3-0), who essentially
clinched Group B with the victory. But they have bigger goals than a
group championship, trying to end a 16-year U.S. drought in this event.

This U.S. team has to do without Kobe
Bryant, LeBron James and all the other players who led the Americans to
the gold medal in the 2008 Olympics, and those guys never needed breaks
at the buzzer.

“This game right here was an eye
opener,” said Rose, the only other U.S. player in double figures with
11 points. “We know that teams are really coming in here to try to win
this tournament and we’re here to do the same.”

After the Americans trailed most of
the first 2 1/2 quarters, Odom’s dunk with 7:14 left put them ahead
64-62. But they couldn’t build on the lead during a tense final few
minutes, and Brazil had two chances to send the game to overtime.

Following a miss by Billups, Brazil
got the ball and Marcelo Huertas was fouled on a drive to the basket
with 3.5 seconds remaining. He missed the first free throw and then the
second intentionally, tracking it down in the corner and firing it
underneath to Barbosa, who lofted a shot over Kevin Love, only to have
it bounce off the back and front of the rim.

“I thought it was going in, but it’s
OK,” Barbosa said. “I think we did a great job, it was a great game. I
don’t think the USA knew that we could cause problems for them and we
did it.”

Barbosa finished with 14 points
after a strong start for Brazil (2-1). Marcus Vinicius scored 16, and
Tiago Splitter had 13 points and 10 rebounds while battling foul
trouble in the second half.

With NBA big men Nene, Anderson
Varejao and Splitter, Brazil was considered one of the teams with
enough size to topple the undersized Americans. Nene had to pull out
with an injury and Varejao sat out again while continuing to rest a
sprained right ankle, so the Brazilians turned to a speed game to lead
much of the way.

They just couldn’t finish the upset,
leaving the Americans needing only a victory over Iran or Tunisia, the
bottom two teams in Group B, or another Brazil loss to earn the top
seed from the group and three full days off before meeting the No. 4
seed from Group A on Sept. 6.

The Americans have plenty to work on
before worrying about that, after needing a huge night from Durant and
31 minutes from Billups, the old man of the team at 33 who had their
only basket in the final 6:50.

“I knew that in the first half that
this was going to be a fourth-quarter game, a last two- or three-minute
game, and I was preparing myself to just be ready,” Billups said.

Nowhere was the difference between
this team and its predecessor more apparent than in the matchup with
Barbosa. When the teams last met, in their 2007 Olympic qualifier,
Barbosa entered as the tournament’s leading scorer before Bryant led a
defensive effort that held him to four points on 1-of-7 shooting in an
easy U.S. win.

There’s no defenders like Bryant
here, and Barbosa took advantage in the first quarter by making two
3-pointers and scoring eight points. Brazil made 12 of its first 16
shots in the period and its first four 3-pointers, streaks that were
snapped when Barbosa was just short on a half-court heave at the
buzzer, leaving them with a 28-22 lead.

Brazil extended its lead to eight
early in the second quarter and Splitter’s dunk sent the Brazilians to
the half with a 46-43 advantage.

The Americans finally grabbed the
lead midway through the third, extending it to 61-55 after consecutive
baskets by Durant. Barbosa scored the final four points of the period,
though, and pulled Brazil within two heading to the fourth.

The crowd grew solidly behind the
underdogs, cheering for Brazil baskets and booing loudly when a small
“U-S-A!” chant broke out in the fourth.

Brazil is coached by Ruben Magnano,
who guided Argentina to victories over the U.S. in the 2002 worlds and
2004 Olympics, when the Argentines won gold. He nearly authored another
upset, as players on both teams thought Barbosa’s shot was going in.

“I had Durant right in front of me,
I couldn’t see,” Huertas said. “I was in the corner but I saw the ball
tipped on both sides of the rim and went out. It was a big
disappointment.”

And for the Americans, a big relief.

“I thought it was in, to tell you the truth,” Rose said. “Thank God it came out.”

Updated August 31, 2010