Argentina Beats Brazil Again (90-81)
Argentina again showed poise under pressure to take their spot in the 2008 Olympics, and forced Brazil to do it the hard way at the World Olympic Qualifying Tournament next July. Much like last time, there was too much Luis Scola, and too little Leandro Barbosa, the latter a result of foul trouble. Brazil also played all but the first six minutes of the game without Nene, who strained his calf and never returned. But it was Barbosa's foul-induced absence in the second half of the third quarter that proved to be Brazil's undoing. With Brazil already on the verge of giving up what had been an 11-point lead earlier in the quarter, Argentina went on a 16-3 run and ended up with an 11-point lead of their own by the time Barbosa returned.
You would never know it from the final score, but the nail-biter ending predicted in the game thread did indeed happen. Brazil got themselves back in the game, and pulled within three points in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter. They were still within striking distance at the 45-second mark when Barbosa drove to the basket and lost the ball, possibly with help from an uncalled foul. When Argentina inbounded, Brazil was called for an "intentional" foul, which gave Argentina two foul shots and the ball. It's probably just me not knowing the international rules that well, but it took three rewinds for me to spot what I think the refs were whistling. It looked like Marcelinho Machado pushed Pablo Prigioni (although Machado is the one who fell down). Maybe it was worse in person than it looked on TV, but I can't imagine that would have been called a flagrant (maybe not even a foul) under NBA rules. But whatever the case, that play pretty much ended any hope Brazil had of winning the game as Prigioni made both free throws to give Argentina a 10-point lead and possession. The loss sends Brazil to play for the bronze medal in tomorrow's consolation game, and a year-long wait to try again for the Olympics.
Player of the Game: Luis Scola again came up huge for Argentina, scoring 27 points on 10-14 from the field to go with nine rebounds and two assists. Much like the prior game with Brazil, he came up big down the stretch. If he plays like this for Houston next season, it's safe to say the Suns won't be able to mark the Rockets down as an easy win anymore as they've usually been able to do for the past three years.
Runner-Up: It's kind of hard to argue with how important Leandro Barbosa is to Brazil in these games against Argentina when they've twice been outscored huge during times he's had to sit with foul trouble. Barbosa did have a pretty solid line with 16 points on 6-12 shooting, to go with three assists and three steals. But again, his foul trouble hurt his team as did his four turnovers (especially that one at the end of the game, presuming he didn't get fouled on the play). I think Tiago Splitter gets the nod here. He held down the paint as well as could be expected with Nene out with injury, and avoided foul trouble in the process. He didn't shoot particularly well (5-14), but he rebounded, hustled, and did everything he could to keep his team in the game.
Random Thoughts: How brutal is it to make these guys play a consolation game tomorrow? Isn't that a little like getting eliminated from the playoffs in the Western Conference Finals, and then having to play a meaningless game against the losers from the East? If it were me, I'd just want to call it off and go home.
Dead-Eye Accuracy Leads USA Over Puerto Rico (135-91)
It was a game for a quarter, half a game for another, and after that, the rout was on as it has been for every game the USA has played in this tournament. Team USA earned its spot at the 2008 Olympics in a 135-point shooting display over Puerto Rico. Six player scored in double-figures as the team made 23 three-pointers and shot a blistering 69.6% from the field.
The shooting barrage was led by Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Michael Redd who combined to make 30-37 from the field, including 15-21 from three point range. LeBron James also got it done with assists too, narrowly missing a double-double with nine. Amare Stoudemire didn't have a big night in the boxscore, but he had a few nice moments with a steal in fourth quarter, a dunk off of one of LeBron James' assist in the second, and a turnaround bank shot in the first. It was another one of those games where a big night by Amare wasn't really needed, with plenty of offense coming from other places. Amare finished with seven points on 3-4 shooting, four rebounds, an assist, and the steal.
Puerto Rico was led by Larry Ayuso and Carlos Arroyo who scored 22 and 21 each. Puerto Rico made a game of it in the first quarter, trailing by only six coming into the second. But the USA lead swelled to 15 by halftime, and after that the game became a shooting clinic. Puerto Rico will meet Brazil in the bronze medal consolation game tomorrow. Team USA will play Argentina for the gold.
Player of the Game: I don't think it's much of a cop-out to say that the whole USA team deserves recognition for the group effort on both ends of the floor that got them into the Olympics. I could probably make a case for a couple of guys more so than the others, but I won't. The game ball goes to everyone tonight.
Runner-Up: Larry Ayuso had the more accurate shooting for Puerto Rico, but Carlos Arroyo added free throws and assists, and had the better overall game.
Random Thoughts: Some really weird officiating in this game. Some if it worked in the USA's favor (like when all three refs missed Amare stepping out of bounds on his way to a layup). But there were a lot of shrugged shoulders from guys on both teams trying to figure out what they'd done wrong. Some really weird commercial breaks by ESPN too. On two separate occasions they cut to a commercial during play, then came back to the game for a few seconds before heading to an official commercial break. Not exactly the best way to lose the "lame" label I'd already given them for not showing the Brazil-Argentina game live on TV.