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December 20, 2014

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U.S. gets by Greece, 92-69, with big first half

Avenging an embarrassing loss two years ago, the U.S. national basketball team defeated Greece, 92-69, in Group B action Thursday at the Olympics in Beijing.

The Greeks beat Team USA in a semifinal at the World Championships in Japan in 2006, keeping the Americans from playing in a third consecutive title game in a major international tournament for the first time.

The U.S., which has used Las Vegas as its training headquarters the past three summers, seems determined to erase those memories at the Summer Games in China.

Trailing 11-7 in the first quarter, the U.S. zipped away from Greece with a 13-3 run. Leading 38-30 in the second, Team USA ripped off 11 consecutive points.

Both runs were filled with fastbreak layups and dunks, with only one long shot – a deep 3-pointer by Kobe Bryant. Until then, Bryant had been 1-for-16 from long range in the tournament.

One of the plays of the Olympics took place during that latter run, when LeBron James deflected a Greek pass at midcourt, raced in for the carom off the floor and, in one fell swoop, converted a two-handed reverse dunk.

Forty seconds into the second quarter, Bryant provided another highlight when Dwyane Wade nearly fell out of bounds trying to save a ball. He tossed it at the front of the rim, and Bryant executed an exciting alley-oop dunk.

“I give credit to Kobe on that one,” Wade told NBC. “I threw it up to the rim, and he has unbelievable athleticism. He made me look good.”

The Greeks made the U.S. look bad early, with slow and methodical strategy. The Greeks tried to spread the court, very high and very wide, on offense, and their passing and weaving was crisp.

But that lasted about five minutes. They had no answers for the Americans after that first run.

Center Chris Bosh thwarted much of what Greece wanted to do with its pick-and-roll offense, a key to its upset over the U.S. in Japan.

James and Dwight Howard also bothered the Greeks inside, and Greece went 0-for-7 from beyond the 3-point arc in the first two 10-minute quarters.

Team USA led 51-32 at halftime and wasn’t threatened. Bryant and Bosh both led the game with 18 points, and Wade had 17 points. Theo Papaloukas led Greece with 15 points and nine rebounds.

The U.S. and Spain, which features Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers teammate Pau Gosal, are both 3-0 in Group B and they play Saturday at Wukesong Indoor Stadium.

Team USA finishes group action Monday against Germany, then the knockout stage begins.

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