Team USA qualifies for Athens

Posted: Sunday, August 31, 2003

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) The United States qualified for the Olympics without throwing any punches, getting hit by too much debris or blowing a huge lead but just barely in all three cases.

In a game marred by an altercation between Tracy McGrady and Eddie Casiano, the U.S. team defeated Puerto Rico 87-71 Saturday night at the Tournament of the Americas.

Also qualifying for the Athens Olympics was Argentina, which easily defeated Canada 88-72.

The U.S. team's victory was fairly easy, too, but it almost got real ugly.

A pushing and shoving match broke out between McGrady and Casiano at the end of the first half. It was broken up by players and coaches from both teams as fans tossed drinks and debris onto the court. Both teams left the court peacefully, and there were no further altercations.

''That's the difference between the first Dream Team and the rest. The first were players with class, these are immature kids,'' Casiano said. ''They have huge talent, but they need to grow up.''

Puerto Rico had an 11-0 run in the fourth quarter and eventually pulled to 81-71 with just over four minutes remaining on a drive by Carlos Arroyo, but Puerto Rico did not score again.

The United States and Argentina will play in the gold medal game Sunday night, while a third Olympic berth will go to the winner of the third-place game between Puerto Rico and Canada.

The U.S. team took the lead for good less than four minutes into the first quarter and was ahead 26-17 entering the second quarter after McGrady beat the buzzer with a tip-in.

Arroyo made it 36-31 with 4:22 left, and Martin gave the Americans back some breathing room with a pair of dunks an alley-oop off a pass from Duncan and a follow slam of Duncan's miss to restore a double-digit lead 2 1/2 minutes before halftime.

Then the ugly stuff began.

With Casiano dribbling on the perimeter as Puerto Rico was holding the ball for a last shot, McGrady defended him physically repeatedly bumping Casiano and swatting at him as he tried to steal the ball, with Casiano trying to elbow McGrady away.

The play happened just a few steps from a referee, who did not call a foul.

Casiano eventually lost the ball and fell to the floor, with the ball rolling toward the American basket. McGrady jogged down and picked the ball up as the other nine players stayed at the other end of the floor. Before dunking it, McGrady turned and stared at Casiano.

McGrady said he turned back toward Casiano because he thought he heard a whistle not because he was taunting him.

McGrady then came downcourt toward Casiano, who pointed at McGrady and yelled at him while slowly backing away. Coaches from both teams rushed onto the court to get in the middle of the players.

Brown, who was hit by a tossed beer, said assistant coach Roy Williams was hit in the chest by a coin.

''I'm glad something like that got started so we'll have motivation going into the next game,'' McGrady said. ''You don't want to be in an altercation like that, but no punches were thrown, there were some exchanged words, both teams got fired up but left it alone and played basketball in the second half.''

Earlier, Kenyon Martin taunted the crowd by blowing kisses as he was booed off the court. Martin shoved Puerto Rico's Daniel Santiago after he committed a hard foul against Jermaine O'Neal.

Martin shot just 1-for-9 in the second half, missing several shots as Puerto Rico made its late run. Ray Allen, who started for injured guard Allen Iverson (sprained thumb), led the U.S. team with 15 points.

Argentina 88, Canada 72

Argentina got 26 points from Manu Ginobili and showed none of the inconsistency that plagued it throughout the tournament.

Argentina led 33-27 when Steve Nash checked back in for Canada after a four-minute rest, but the NBA All-Star was held in check as Argentina started to steadily pull ahead by doing what it does best moving the ball around on offense and consistently creating layups and open 3s.

''There is no perfect game, but I think they were extremely intelligent to read the Canadian defense and to perform as one on offense,'' Argentina coach Ruben Magnano said through a translator.

A 3-pointer by Ginobili, who had five 3s in the first half, made it 42-30, and another 3 by Ginobili got the lead up to 17 51-34. Argentina had 17 assists while making 20 shots in the first half.

Ginobili found Luis Scola with a quick pass from the top of the key for a layup that gave Argentina a 75-44 lead at the end of the third quarter, and Canada coach Jay Triano rested his starters in the fourth.

''We didn't play well today, and they're better than us maybe one through 12,'' Triano said. ''They shared the ball, they all made shots, they can all post up, they can all score from different positions. That's a good basketball team.''

The Argentine team celebrated for several minutes on the court, taking their shirts off and waving them to their supporters who sat in the upper deck of the end zone. Andres Nocioni held aloft his country's flag.

The United States and Argentina joined Serbia and Montenegro (world champion), Greece (host nation) and Angola (African champion) among teams that have qualified for Athens.



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