Blocking Out Bad Memories
Posted Aug 27 2003 12:31PM
With one block, Jermaine O'Neal replaced one tournament memory with another
Aug. 27 -- It may have been the play of the tournament.
With the U.S. clinging to an 87-83 lead with 1:13 remaining in their game against Argentina on Tuesday, Argentina's Fabrizio Oberto found himself coming off a pick-and-roll with the ball and a clear path to the basket.
Now, up to that point, Oberto had been brilliant, hitting all eight of his shots, most of them turnaround jumpers in the collective grills of Tim Duncan and Jermaine O'Neal. Oberto was the last guy Team USA wanted to see with the ball when he had nothing but hardwood between him and the rim.
And that's when O'Neal made "The Play." Sliding over from the weak side on help defense, O'Neal rejected Oberto's lazy layup attempt off the glass. Guard Allen Iverson picked up the ball around the top of the key, passed to Vince Carter on the break, and Carter threw down a thunderous dunk, giving Team USA a six-point lead.
From there, the U.S. was on its way to a hard-fought 94-86 win over a game Argentine team. The U.S. is now 6-0 overall, 5-0 in the second round, heading into tonight's game against México (10 ET), which is the only other team to defeat Argentina in the Olympic qualifying tournament.
"With this team, you have to find a way to be effective and you've got to find a way to change the game," O'Neal said after the game. "Obviously, we have a lot of offensive fire power but that play really reflects how the coaches are coaching our team and what the players are trying to do with our team ... And we have to do what it takes to win the game."
Brown has been stressing defense and togetherness from the day Team USA first gathered for practice on Manhattan's West Side on Aug. 10.
"From the first day of practice, that's what the coaches have said, to play as a team," said Carter, who had 11 points. "Okay, it's your turn, my turn, his turn. All these teams are good. Argentina ... Canada is pretty good. Brazil, Puerto Rico. You can't go out there and play one-on-one. We've been winning off a team effort."
As had Argentina. On Tuesday, the Argentines had put pressure on the U.S. defense for most of the game. They shot 52.4 percent from three-point range for the game, and finished the game at 47.5 percent from the field (they were shooting 50 percent from the field midway through the fourth quarter).
"We realized that Argentina relies on the three-point shot," Brown said. "They have a lot of guys who can step out on the floor and their big guys can shoot it from outside, so we were aware of that. And letting them shoot 11 for 21 is not good defense on our part.
"It's the first time in this tournament that someone shot a high percentage against us and that's because they are so well coached and execute so well."
Yet, when it counted most, the U.S. and O'Neal came through with flying red, white and blue colors. Unlike last year, the Americans were able to answer every Argentine charge, especially down the stretch.
"I tried to get everyone together and told them we let them stay in the game, so everybody has to play tough and not give them anything easy," said guard Mike Bibby, who was on the floor at the end instead of Jason Kidd, who had a touch of the flu.
"We stepped up in the last couple of minutes, played hard defense and didn't give them easy stuff, like we'd been giving them all game," concluded Bibby. "I think that's how we pulled it out."
O'Neal proved to be clutch throughout the game, leading the U.S with 22 points and 10 rebounds. And while the win does take some of the sting out of last year's missteps, is O'Neal satisfied so far?
"No," O'Neal said. "Not until we get a gold medal."