Team USA Cruises to Lighthearted Victory
Friday, August 24, 2007; 1:09 AM
LAS VEGAS, Aug. 23 -- LeBron James was in the corner with no one blocking his path to hoop, so he exploded toward the basket for a ferocious tomahawk dunk. Michael Redd was camped out behind the international three-point line with no one attempting to contest his shot, so he repeatedly flicked his left wrist and watched the ball splash through the net.
The Virgin Islands was listed as Team USA's opponent Thursday at the FIBA Americas Championship, but the Americans were basically playing by themselves during a 123-59 victory. The United States led by 29 points after one period, 30 at halftime and with the game essentially wrapped up early in the third quarter, fans at Thomas & Mack Center decided to serenade Kobe Bryant -- who turned 29 on Thursday -- with "Happy Birthday" while he was on the foul line. After the tune was complete, James chuckled and Bryant laughed after hitting both free throws.
Carmelo Anthony scored 22 points and Redd scored 15 of his 22 points during a dazzling five-minute shooting display in the first quarter as the United States continued its waltz through the preliminary round -- a day after beating Venezuela by 43 points. Mike Miller and Amare Stoudemire both had 13 points and Deron Williams added 10. Tayshaun Prince had a game-high 12 rebounds.
USA Coach Mike Krzyzewski will give his team the day off on Friday, but it's hard not to classify the past two days as a vacation. The U.S. team will have more difficult games ahead against Canada on Saturday and perhaps its toughest opponent in Brazil on Sunday. But after the first two games, the team is meeting Anthony's stated goal to "not try to embarrass but dominate."
The Americans have been unselfish, played tenacious defense, and hit shots from long distance. They made 9 of 15 three-pointers in the first half. During one stretch in the third period, the United States had back-to-back impressive alley-oops. Jason Kidd tossed the ball off the backboard and James came soaring in for a jam. Then, Bryant threw a lob that appeared to be out of reach for Dwight Howard, but Howard extended his arms behind his head and dunked with both hands.
The United States actually trailed for the first time this tournament. But after falling behind 4-2, Anthony and James combined to score the next nine points. Redd then came off the bench and hit three three-pointers during a decisive 19-2 run. The scoreboard after the first quarter: Redd, 15. Virgin Islands, 11.
The last time these two teams met, in the 2003 Tournament of the Americas, the United States defeated the Virgin Islands 113-55 -- even without the services of Tim Duncan, who sat out the game because he didn't want to play against the nation in which he was born. The United States didn't need Duncan this time, either.