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Nikos HATZIVRETTAS (GRE)
Semi Finals of the 2006 FIBA World Championship, Greece vs USA. 01.09.2006. Photo credits: Castoria / Ciamillio.
01/09/2006Game Report, Greece vs United States, 101-95, Semi-final

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SAITAMA (FIBA World Championship) - Greece kept alive their dreams of capturing the world title with a 101-95 semi-final triumph over the United States.

Vasilis Spanoulis scored 22 points and Mihalis Kakiouzis made four free throws in the final 35 seconds as the European champions fought back from a 12-point first-half deficit.

The Greeks made 62.5% (35 of 56) of their shots from the field and 70% (23 of 33) from the foul line.

Team USA, who like the Greeks entered the semi-final with seven wins in seven games, shot 50% (33 of 66) from the field but made just nine of 28 three-pointers while converting a woeful 59% (20 of 34) from the free throw line.

Greece will play in Sunday's final against Spain or Argentina.

"I have to thank the players first because they did something incredible," Greek coach Panagiotis said. "We won a great game which was a promotion for basketball everywhere in the world."

The coach praised his team's effort on defense, but also how they were still strong-willed to execute offensively amid the tough US pressure - committing just 12 turnovers.

"When one team spends a lot of energy on defense, it's difficult to have the same spirit on offense. I think we did a great job because we made the US put more pressure on the ball and it allowed us to drive to the basket more easily."

Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski was also full of praise for the Europeans.

"Obviously the Greek team and their coaching staff did an amazing job today," he said.

"Their offense beat our defense, and I take responsibility for that. We win and lose together, but in a loss a coach needs to take more responsibility than anyone else."

Carmelo Anthony led the Americans with 27 points while Dwyane Wade scored 19 points and LeBron James added 17.

Dwight Howard scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 13 minutes. The Americans out-rebounded Greece 34-28, including 16 off the offensive glass.

Kakiouzis tallied 15 points for the Greeks while Sofoklis Schortsanitis had 14 points in 17 minutes.

Dimitris Diamantidis chipped in 12 points and five assists and Theo Papaloukas proved the perfect mastermind to the Greek attack, dishing out a tournament-high 12 assists. 

Yannakis' team was unable to keep Howard off the glass, as he scored five points over three straight possessions, including two offensive rebounds followed by dunks.

Dwyane Wade snatched Howard's missed free throw with 2:44 left in the first quarter and dunked for an 18-12 lead.

Team USA led 20-14 after 10 minutes.

Spanoulis buried three free throws to trim the deficit to 22-19, only to see Anthony score three of Team USA's next four baskets as they opened a 30-21 advantage three minutes into the second quarter.

After a Greek time-out, Joe Johnson's three-ball gave Krzyzewski's team their biggest lead at 33-21 with 6:27 left in the half but Papaloukas' driving layup finished a 9-0 run to close within 33-30 and force the American coach to call a time-out to settle his team down.

Howard continued his strong showing with a three-point play before Dimitris Diamantidis answered with a three-pointer and Schortsanitis got deep enough for a dunk.

That was just the start of a dominating run by the Greek big man. He scored on the next three possessions and Papaloukas hit a lay-up to push Greece ahead 43-38 with 48 seconds to play in the first half.

Greece went into the locker room with a 45-41 lead and they stayed in front the rest of the way.

Yannakis' men continued to make the Americans work on defense with their crisp passing, and Antonis Fotsis buried a wide-open three for a 50-43 advantage. Schortsanitis also got back into the act with baskets on back-to-back possessions to move Greece ahead 56-48.

But Schortsanitis was hit with his third foul within 51 seconds, forcing Yannakis to take the big man out.

The Greeks marched on with Spanoulis, Diamantidis and Konstas Tsartsaris draining consecutive three-pointers and Dimos Dikoudis came off the bench to make three straight baskets as the Europeans opened a 71-58 lead with 4:01 left in the third.

In total, Greece scored on their first 13 possessions of the second half.

Yannakis' men wouldn't let the Americans back into the game, answering every punch Team USA delivered with a punch of their own.

Team USA had hoped to finished the third quarter with a basket but Spanoulis ended up hustling down the court to hit a driving lay-up just before the buzzer for a 77-65 lead.

Wade started the fourth by converting an acrobatic lay-up and falling down and making the extra foul shot. But once again, the Greeks countered with Kakiouzis draining a three-pointer.

Anthony and Wade hit back-to-back threes to trim the deficit to 85-77.

It was still an eight-point game at 89-81 as Schortsanitis got back into the scoring column with a free throw with 3:48 to play.

Kirk Hinrich drained a three-pointer with 2:41 to play to close the gap to 91-86, but he was then called for an unsportsmanlike foul on Schortsanitis.

The center missed both free throws only to have Spanoulis bail him out with a three-pointer for a 94-86 advantage.

After Spanoulis made just one of two free throws with 45 seconds left, Hinrich knocked down a three-pointer with the imposing Schortsanitis charging out at him and knocking him down - though no foul was called.

That shot pulled the Americans to within 95-91 with 36 seconds remaining. Hinrich then fouled out, however, as he hit Kakiouzis to stop the clock and Kakiouzis made the free throws with 35.6 seconds to play.

After James again made it a four-point game, the Greeks failed to inbound the ball in time against the excellent American pressure and turned the ball over with 27 seconds to play.

Anthony missed a wild three-pointer, however, and Fotsis was fouled and made both free throws for a 99-93 Greek lead.

James stormed into the lane and threw down a thunderous dunk with 16.7 seconds to go, but Kakiouzis again proved strong-willed enough by hitting two foul shots for a 101-95 scoreline with just 15.6 seconds left.

Neither James nor Paul could hit a final three-pointer, sending the Greeks into a wild frenzy at the Saitama Super Arena.

The Americans came into the FIBA World Championship hoping to return to the top of the world stage after a sixth-place finish four years ago in Indianapolis and a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics.

"This is a process for us. We've come a long way in a month," said Team USA's Shane Battier said. "We're on the right track to bring USA Basketball back to where we believe it should be - and that's the best in the world."

Coach Krzyzewski added: "We knew when we started this it's going to be a journey, not a short trip. We have to learn the international game better."

And Anthony said: "To lose any game is a shock to us. We came in with a mentality that we wanted to win this game and try to win the gold medal. At the end of the day we need to get ourselves together. It's not the end of the world for us. We win together and lose together."

The Americans play the loser of the Spain-Argentina game on Saturday for the bronze medal.

By David Hein, FIBA