Sunday, August 15, 2004
-- In an upset as historic as it was inevitable, Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson and the rest of the U.S. basketball team lost 92-73 to Puerto Rico on Sunday, only the third Olympic defeat ever for the Americans.
It was also the most lopsided loss in the games for the U.S. team, alarming not only for its significance but also for its decisiveness.
Puerto Rico, which had lost to the Americans five times in the past 13 months, took control in the first half, led by 22 at halftime and gamely held off a fourth-quarter comeback for one of the biggest sports achievements in the island territory's history.
The loss was a blow to the Americans' confidence, but it did little to hurt their gold medal chances. They need only to finish in the top four of their six-team group to reach the quarterfinals.
Still, the defeat will go a long way toward giving the competition the bold idea that it's someone else's turn to move to the top of a sport that's been dominated by one country for nearly three-quarters of a century.
As Carlos Arroyo left the court with just over a minute left, he defiantly pulled at the words "Puerto Rico" on his jersey. He led his team with 24 points.
Anyone in America who didn't see this coming hadn't been paying attention to the way international basketball has been changing. The U.S. nearly lost in the semifinals at Sydney on a last-second miss by Lithuania, then dropped three games on its home turf at the 2002 World Championships in Indianapolis -- the first losses ever by a U.S. team of NBA professionals.
This year's team, weakened by the defections and rejections of 12 top players, opened its pre-Olympic tour of Europe with a 17-point loss to Italy and a last-second victory over Germany _ a pair of games in which their vulnerability to a tight zone defense was clearly exposed.
Puerto Rico used that defensive strategy, too, and the Americans could do next to nothing against it.
After Lamar Odom made their first 3-pointer, the Americans missed 16 straight. They tried to get the ball inside, but Puerto Rico collapsed several defenders into the paint and took the U.S. team's best player, Duncan, out of the offensive equation.
American teams had been 24-0 since the professional Olympic era began with the 1992 Dream Team, but now there is a blemish on their record to go with their two losses to the Soviet Union in the 1972 gold medal game and the 1988 semifinals.
They handled the loss to Puerto Rico with grace, congratulating their opponents and joining them in a huddle at center court before both teams exited to a standing ovation.
The U.S Olympic team's record now stands at 109-3.