Kobe Bryant provided the offense in the U.S. Olympic basketball team’s first defensive struggle.
Bryant scored 19 points, Carmelo Anthony added 17, and the Americans beat Russia 89-68 Sunday in what was by far their most competitive tuneup yet for the Beijing Games.
The United States had been scoring 118 points per game while winning its first three exhibitions by an average of 41 points. Russia allowed far fewer fast-break baskets than the previous U.S. opponents, successfully keeping the game in the halfcourt and forcing the Americans to run more offensive sets.
That was fine with Bryant, who scored 12 points after halftime in his highest-scoring game so far.
Dwyane Wade continued his strong play off the bench with 16 points for the Americans, who play their final exhibition game here Tuesday against Australia.
Utah Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko scored 18 points and American point guard J.R. Holden added 17 for the European champions.
The defensive tone of the game brought an early entrance of Tayshaun Prince, who had played little in the first three games. Kirilenko had an early block on Anthony’s shot, but the Americans pulled away to a 29-17 advantage on Deron Williams’ 3-pointer with about 4 seconds left.
Russia kept the deficit right around 10 for most of the second quarter before Wade gave the Americans some breathing room before the half. He followed his soft running jumper with a steal and dunk, making it 43-29, and his free throw in the final second extended the lead to 46-31.
The Americans were held to just 17 points in the period, their worst quarter so far.
The sellout crowd of 14,523 at this arena built for tennis clearly favored the U.S. team, and Bryant seemed to be the fans’ favorite. They chanted “MVP!” when he shot free throws early in the game, booed when he was called for an offensive foul in the second quarter, and generally oohed and aahed whenever he squared up to take a shot.
Bryant hadn’t been looking for his offense on the tour, averaging only 11.7 points — sixth-best on the team — while focusing his efforts on defending the top perimeter threat. But it was needed Sunday, since he’s the Americans’ best halfcourt player.
His 3-pointer early in the third gave the Americans a 20-point cushion, but Russia cut it down to 12 barely two minutes later. Bryant responded with the next three U.S. buckets to keep it from getting any closer, and Wade and Michael Redd combined for the final 10 points of the period to bump the lead back to 71-51.
Wade came in averaging 17.3 points in only 18.7 points per game, showing he’s fully recovered after missing the last 1½ months of the NBA season due to his surgically repaired left knee.
Credit: The Associated Press