One last warmup

Despite nearby bombings, U.S. men play, beat Turkey

Posted: Wednesday, August 11, 2004

ISTANBUL, Turkey - After awakening to news of bombings in this ancient city, the U.S. Olympic basketball team decided to play on.

And by the time the Americans finished an 80-68 victory over Turkey in front of a jeering and whistling crowd, they pronounced themselves ready for Athens - but still jittery from the events of an anxious day.

The Americans' final Olympic tuneup was similar to many others during an up-and-down tour through Europe. They were unable to dominate an opponent that figured to be vastly overmatched, but they got the job done in the end.

What made this day different was a major off-the-court event that tested their focus.

The team learned early in the morning that bombs had exploded at two tourist hotels and a fuel depot a few miles from their hotel, but team and U.S. government officials reassured them it would be safe to go ahead with the game.

"I don't know that everybody is absolutely confident and secure with everything, but they said everything would be fine, so you have to keep going on," Tim Duncan said.

And so they did. After failing to shake Turkey for three quarters, the U.S. team hit its stride in the fourth quarter - but not before the crowd gave them an earful.

The play that turned the fans against them came when LeBron James swiped at the ball and hit Turkey guard Ibrahim Kutluay in the eye. Kutluay, who scored 26 points, lay writhing on the floor before walking off. He eventually returned.

Another Turkish player went down moments later, and the whistles and shrieks from the crowd reached earsplitting levels whenever the Americans had the ball thereafter.

"This is part of the game. I think it was the right answer from the fans, and they'll see it in Greece, too," Turkey center Mehmet Okur said. "It's much different in Europe. It's not like the NBA."

Duncan shot 12-for-14 and led the U.S. team with 25 points and 11 rebounds, Allen Iverson scored 13 and Richard Jefferson added 11. Juneau-Douglas High School graduate Carlos Boozer scored four points.

Team officials first learned of the bombings at 5 a.m. local time, and were briefed two hours later by their security coordinators and a State Department official from the U.S. consulate. Players were informed of what had happened just before their regular morning meeting, and families of the players traveling with the team received a briefing as well.

"They gave us intelligence that gave us a certain comfort level. The State Department official reiterated this was not targeted at American or Western interests, and it was something that is not atypical of what happens in Turkey," USA basketball executive director Jim Tooley said.

No serious consideration was given to canceling or postponing the game, Tooley said.

"We all were a little uneasy about it because most of the guys had family here," U.S. coach Larry Brown said. "People here handled it great. They made us feel pretty secure. We knew when the schedule was made that there had been some incidents here, but everybody wanted to come."

Security as tightened at the Turkish team's hotel after the game, with barriers blocking the main entrance and guards searching bags. Similar measures had already been in place at the U.S. team's hotel.

As for the game, Duncan was virtually unstoppable in the first quarter, but so was Kutluay.

The Turkish guard scored 14 points to Duncan's 13, going 5-for-6 from the field - often with a defender right in his face.

Duncan didn't take his first rest until 7:39 remained in the second quarter with the score tied at 25, and the Americans couldn't get anything going offensively. They trailed 31-29 when he returned with 3:32 left.

Jefferson scored six points to help the Americans go ahead by four, but Kutluay ended the first half with a 3-pointer over Iverson, his only basket of the quarter, to leave Turkey trailing just 37-36.

The game remained tight until the Americans scored the final six points of the third quarter and the first four of the fourth for a 63-53 lead.

Kutluay went down moments later, and the crowd grew even angrier after Turkey center Fatih Solak injured his left triceps when he came down hard after trying to block a breakaway dunk by Boozer.

That dunk started an 8-0 run that put the U.S. team ahead by 15, 75-60.

"I think we're right where we need to be going into the Olympics," Duncan said. "I think we're 1,000 percent better than when we started. We understand each other a little better, and what were going to run into."



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