What seemed like it might be an interesting halftime suddenly got a lot less so, and that's no offense intended against the sword-wielding halftime performers. The Aussies missed open three-pointers on their last three possessions, and the Americans closed with a Kobe Bryant fall-away and a Deron Williams three at the buzzer to take their largest lead of the night, 55-43. Those were some deflated green-and-yellow men heading into the locker room, and a dozen armed halftime performers in flowing white robes won't change that.
Still, the underdogs put in a respectable first half. Unlike other teams in this men's basketball event--even medal contender Spain--the Aussies are showing no fear driving to the lane against a U.S. team that has played legitimate defense for most of the month.
And the Americans seem to be getting some NBA calls, drawing whistles during their drives while contact is waved off on the other end. There was prolonged jawing between LeBron James and Mark Worthington after one foul, and everyone then got together in a big group to talk things out. Several Aussies have had words with the refs.
Matt Nielsen picked up his third foul early in the quarter, which didn't help the upset cause, but the U.S. kept missing free throws. (10 of 20 at the half.) But a 13-2 edge in offensive rebounds more than made up for that, with the Americans enjoying a 9-0 edge in second-chance points.
A two-handed fast-break dunk by LeBron seemed to spark the Americans, who got a one-handed stuff and a fast-break layin from Kobe in their next two possessions. Tayshaun Prince got some first-half run. Starter Jason Kidd was again a fixture on the bench. "Tubthumping" was again a fixture on the PA; I've heard the '90s staple at at least four venues already.
The crowd tried to get behind the upset, but it was nothing like an NCAA crowd embracing a 15 seed on a neutral court. Apparently the Americans are no longer a 2 seed to the rest of the world. Either that, or the Chinese were too distracted by their love of Kobe, or by the robotic inflatable Fuwa mascots.
LeBron and Carmelo Anthony lead all scorers with 12 points. LeBron's 12-7-3 (steals) line is the most noteworthy.
First three Americans out of the locker room were bigs Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh and Carlos Boozer, who have all sorts of private jokes going on.