Team USA hangs on against Brazil
WASHINGTON — LeBron James scored 30 points and the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team rallied from an early 10-point deficit to beat Brazil 80-69 on Monday night.
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden watched the Americans get off to a dismal start, then turn it around by holding the Brazilians to two baskets in the second quarter.
James helped the U.S. pull away in the final four minutes after they led by only seven, getting his final point on a free throw with 31 seconds left as Obama departed.
Kevin Durant added 11 in his hometown for the Americans, who will leave Tuesday for Europe to complete their Olympic preparations. They face Britain in Manchester, England on Thursday before traveling to Barcelona to play Argentina and Spain.
It’s a solid exhibition schedule, and this game showed the Americans have some work to do before they get to London.
They were just 1 of 12 from 3-point range in the first half and struggled offensively when forced to play in the halfcourt.
The president met with the men’s and women’s teams, who swept the doubleheader from Brazil. He received a loud cheer when he arrived but like the U.S. players got off to a slow start, he needed a second chance before First Lady Michelle Obama would grant him a kiss on the “Kiss Cam” segment.
Players were just walking onto the floor for the jump ball when Obama and Biden emerged from the tunnel to take their seats. The start was delayed while they greeted fans, and perhaps the break had the U.S. players out of rhythm at the beginning of the game.
James hit two free throws to open the scoring, but the Americans didn’t make their first basket until more than 2 1/2 minutes in after falling behind 7-2. Garcia had two 3-pointers and two other baskets in the early going as Brazil pushed the lead to 17-7 barely five minutes into the game.
Indicative of the way things were going for the Americans, Russell Westbrook came up with a steal near midcourt and was all alone for a layup that he somehow botched. The Brazilians scored the final four points of the period, taking a 27-17 lead on Varejao’s jumper with 15.5 seconds left.
But the Americans got the tempo they wanted in the second, simply wrestling the ball out of Brazilian hands to create turnovers and fast breaks. A 12-0 run fueled by steals and layups turned an eight-point deficit into a 33-29 lead, and James powered to the basket for the last two baskets of the half as the Americans went into the break with a 37-32 lead.
The Americans expected and got a much tougher game than their exhibition opener, a 113-59 rout of the Dominican Republic last Thursday in Las Vegas. Brazil has loads of NBA size to exploit the Americans’ biggest weakness, with Nene of the Washington Wizards, Anderson Varejao of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Tiago Splitter of San Antonio, plus experienced guard play.
Alex Garcia scored 14 points to lead Brazil and Varejao finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds.
Brazil gave the U.S. its toughest game at the world basketball championship two years ago, the Americans pulling out a 70-68 victory when Leandro Barbosa’s shot from the lane bounced off the rim as time expired.
Of course, that U.S. team didn’t have James or anyone else from the team that won the 2008 Olympic gold medal and are the favorites to repeat. The Americans believe they have a better squad than four years ago and maybe even could have beaten the Dream Team, but perhaps it’s time to end that debate.
The Dream Team never found itself in a six-point game with six minutes to go, as the Americans did after Varejao tipped in a miss. The U.S. finally pulled away in the final 4 minutes, started by consecutive baskets by James, a 3-pointer and a bucket in the lane.
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