It's official now. This is NOT Japan and the 2006 World Championships, not to mention Athens and the 2004 Olympics.
This is Beijing and the 2008 Olympics, and the U.S. is back in men's basketball.
These Americans, who looked so lost two years ago at the World Championship in Japan, appear to have found their Olympic way in China.
Batting away balls or swatting shots on seemingly every possession late in the second quarter, the Americans broke open a close game and went on to a 92-69 victory today to clinch a spot in the medal round.
"We played like we wanted to win. We played together," U.S. guard Dwyane Wade said. "We were very aware of their offensive sets, we were very aware of their personnel and we played like that. So we were kind of a step in front of what they wanted to do because we kind of knew everything already."
The Americans were also able to find the range on jump shots when the Greeks went to a zone defense to slow them down. Kobe Bryant, who entered the game shooting just 37 percent in the first two games, was 7-for-14 from the field and finished with 18 points.
Chris Bosh also had 18 points, Wade added 17 and LeBron James had 13 for the United States (3-0), which moves on to a matchup of Group B unbeatens Saturday night against world champion Spain. The winner will earn the group's top seed for the quarterfinals.
Greece stunned the Americans two years ago in the semifinals of the 2006 world championships, shredding the U.S. defense for 63 percent shooting with clinical execution of its pick-and-roll offense in a 101-95 victory.
This time, the Greeks hit just 41.3 percent (26-for-63) from the field and just 4-for-18, 22 percent, from 3-point range as the Americans used a suffocating defense to extend a seven-point lead to a 19-point cushion in the final 51/2 minutes of the first half.
"Any time you get beat it's embarrassing and that's enough," Bosh said. "And we can really use that as a tool to help us with our defense now, and that's the name of the game. Because if you play good defense, no matter how you're shooting the ball you're going to be in the game."
The Americans' defense failed them at the 2004 Athens Olympics. The U.S. finished 5-3 and gave up an average of 91.6 points per game in the three losses. The disappointing showing was the impetus that led to the three-year training this squad underwent to prepare for these Summer Games. This is not just a roster of NBA All-Stars, these players feel a part of a team.
Today Theo Papaloukas led Greece with 15 points, but like China and Angola before them, the Greeks stayed close for about 11/2 quarters before the Americans' depth and athleticism blew open the game.
After the previously slumping Bryant finally knocked down a 3-pointer, James blocked a shot that led to Bosh's three-point play for a 44-30 lead with 2:31 remaining in the second quarter. James came up with a steal less than 30 seconds later and threw down a reverse dunk.
Bosh swiped at a ball that led to another Greece turnover, and James found him on the next possession for another three-point play and a 49-30 bulge. The Greeks then turned it over again, with James keeping his balance while nearly falling down to take an outlet pass and convert a layup, and Bosh blocked the final Greek shot of the half to make it 51-32 at the break.
The United States had 12-point lead in the game in Japan two years ago before handing it over with its sloppy defensive effort. The Americans came out much sharper this time, with Jason Kidd picking up three fouls in the first 1:25 while aggressively defending, and Bryant guarding Vasileios Spanoulis, the top Greek scorer.
And after stubbornly sticking to what wasn't working in the game two years ago, the Americans showed the Greeks different looks this time. They picked up full court on one early possession, then fell back into a zone defense on another.
"I don't think the pick-and-roll tonight was as big a problem as it was in '06," Carmelo Anthony said.
Unlike their easy victory against Angola two nights earlier, the Americans kept up the defensive intensity after halftime. Dwight Howard smacked away a shot right into Kidd's head, leading to a shot clock violation, and James and Bosh had rejections on the same third-quarter possession a few minutes later.
The Americans still struggled from the free throw line and 3-point arc. They were 7-of-20 on 3s and just 13 of 23 at the line.
Greece (1-2), which lost to Spain in its opener, faces winless Angola before closing pool play against China.
U.S. hammers Greece