ATHENS, Greece — Tim Duncan had fouled out, Allen Iverson was playing with a broken thumb, and Greece had passed the ball inside with a chance to pull within two points with 18 seconds left.
Lamar Odom defended the play perfectly, holding his hand steady and high and getting a piece of Dimitris Pipanikoulaou’s layup attempt. Odom, playing despite severe dehydration, rebounded the miss, was fouled and made two free throws to lock up the U.S. team’s 77-71 victory Tuesday night in its second game of the Olympics.
In a contest that was much closer than expected, the Americans bounced back from their embarrassing opening loss to Puerto Rico and avoided dropping to 0-2, which would have matched their loss total from the previous 68 years at the Summer Games.
“We wanted to play this one and get that out of our heads,” Duncan said.
The big plays down the stretch came from Odom and Carlos Boozer after Duncan fouled out and Iverson cooled off after a strong start. The Americans didn’t have a great game, but that didn’t matter much to them.
They needed a win and they got one.
The game was a spectacle in many ways, from U.S. coach Larry Brown angrily gesturing at the referees to the raucous Greek fans taunting the Americans with chants of “Puerto Rico,” singing soccer fight songs and waving blue and white flags.
Close games for the Americans were rare in previous Olympics, but it appears to be something the Americans should get used to.
Struggling again from the outside against another team playing a tightly packed zone defense, the U.S. team shot 4-for-21 from 3-point range, committed 19 turnovers, missed 13 free throws and failed to show the ability to pull away against a mediocre opponent.
“Believe it or not, I think we’ll make an outside shot someday,” Brown said.
Iverson scored 17, 13 in the first half, and Duncan had 13 of his 14 points in a third quarter in which he picked up three fouls, setting the stage for a tight fourth quarter.
The Americans led 64-61 when Duncan returned with 5:46 left, and 67-63 when he fouled out about two minutes later on a questionable loose-ball foul call that left him staring in disbelief and Brown pointing in anger at the official who called it the foul.
Odom and Stephon Marbury scored inside to give the Americans some breathing room, though a drive by Antonis Fotsis made it a four-point game with 1:10 left.