COLOGNE, Germany - Things are not looking good for the NBA stars on the U.S. Olympic basketball team.
The Americans needed a last-second 3-pointer by Allen Iverson from just across midcourt Wednesday to pull out an 80-77 exhibition victory over Germany - a team that failed to even qualify for the Athens Games.
A day after losing 95-78 to unheralded Italy, the U.S. players celebrated their last-gasp triumph against Germany as though they had won an NBA championship. When Iverson's second 3-pointer in the final 1 1/2 minutes went through the net, two-time league MVP Tim Duncan raised a finger to the sky as if to say, "We're No. 1!" Other team members piled atop Iverson on the court.
"That was great. It felt good because it was the first time in my life I hit a buzzer beater like that," Iverson said. "That's what basketball is all about."
Duncan led the Americans with 19 points, followed by Carmelo Anthony with 16 and Iverson with 15. Juneau-Douglas High School graduate Carlos Boozer scored five points.
But the United States again struggled against a team thought to be no competition.
The Germans' top player, Dallas Mavericks All-Star Dirk Nowitzki, appeared to have sent the game to overtime by making a 3-pointer over two defenders to tie the score at 77 with 3.2 seconds left. Nowitzki scored a game-high 32 points.
But Iverson, a U.S. co-captain, came through with his own clutch shot, one day after calling the upset rout against Italy "a wakeup call." That 17-point difference was the largest margin of defeat for an NBA-stocked U.S. team.
"We made a lot of improvements over the game last night, but we have a long ways to go," U.S. coach Larry Brown said.
One of Iverson's other four 3-pointers came with 1:18 left, staking the Americans to a 75-72 lead. Nowitzki cut that deficit to 75-74 with two free throws with 35 seconds to go.
Anthony, the Denver Nuggets' star rookie, made two foul shots to make it 77-74, setting up the final long-distance drama.
The Americans held a slim lead early, never leading by more than five points, until Nowitzki's six straight points on jumpers lifted the Germans to a 59-56 lead with 2:40 left in the third quarter.
The Americans showed more intensity and better defense from the start than against Italy.
Iverson set the tone in the opening minutes, hounding German point guard Steffen Hamann until jarring the ball loose and finishing a fastbreak with a layup.
"It's my job to set an example on defense and then the others will follow," the 76ers guard said.
But the Germans, who beat Italy 85-77 three days ago, lacked the stellar outside shooters that proved so hard to handle for the U.S. team against the Italians.
Instead, the hosts relied on Nowitzki and plenty of support from the crowd of 18,000.
"I think we're getting better. Just to get a win in a place like this - the crowd was really into it," Iverson said. "We have to get used to it in Athens. Everybody will be rooting against us. So this will be a good test for us."
The U.S. team plays its first game in Athens against Puerto Rico on Aug. 15 as it tries to win a fourth straight gold medal since NBA players were allowed to compete at the Olympics. The Americans' next exhibition game is against Serbia-Montenegro.
Germany failed to qualify for the Olympics because it lost to Italy in qualifying. The Germans won the bronze medal at the 2002 World Championships.