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Picked and rolled

Why did the U.S. lose to Greece? Try three words ...

Posted: Friday September 1, 2006 10:18AM; Updated: Friday September 1, 2006 10:18AM
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Greece's Baby Shaq, Sofoklis Schortsanitis, pounds away on the U.S.
Greece's Baby Shaq, Sofoklis Schortsanitis, pounds away on the U.S.
Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images

SAITAMA, Japan -- This one was a surprise. The novelty of the U.S. losing in international competition may be long gone after what happened in Indianapolis and Athens, but this time, the U.S. was expected to at least make it to the final. Greece? No one was too worried about Greece.

They should have been. For those who didn't see the game -- and I'm guessing that's all but the most dedicated (now bleary-eyed) fans stateside -- this was not one of those ugly losses of yore, when the U.S. resorts to ball-hogging and forcing shots, or is done in by arrogance. Rather, the Greek team simply executed better than the Americans, made better adjustments and had a better game plan. Shooting 63 percent didn't hurt either.

Here's how it happened, and what went wrong -- call it being Stockton-ed to death -- for the U.S. in the 101-95 loss:

Early on, the U.S. jumped to a 12-point lead behind its physical defense. Kirk Hinrich and Joe Johnson picked up full court and extended on the Greek guards in the half court, forcing them to run the pick and roll so high that on one possession the screen came five feet beyond the three-point line. The Greeks, as they have all tournament, went to their isolation post-up moves -- imagine a bunch of white Charles Barkleys, pounding, pounding it on the low block -- with mixed success.

On offense, as against Germany, the U.S. feasted on offensive rebounds. For a stretch, no matter which player shot, it seemed the ball ended up in Dwight Howard's large hands, after which he'd pump fake once and go up for that windmill two-hand dunk.

After launching 40 three-pointers against Germany, the U.S. was more patient early, if not more successful (2-10 in the first half). On one nice sequence, LeBron James made an entry pass from the top to Carmelo Anthony on the right block. Anthony posted, took two dribbles and kicked it back out to James, who had room to shoot. Instead of doing so, and taking what might have been an ill-advised three, he re-posted to Anthony, who turned and sunk a 12-footer. Things were clicking.

Where it all fell apart was on the pick and roll.

Before the game, the U.S. coaches watched tape of Greece's guards and decided on a strategy of forcing the ballhandler to change direction up top. So the U.S. began the game pressuring the Greek guards and going over the top on screens.