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SAITAMA (FIBA World Championship) – The United States wanted a gold medal but settled for bronze with a 96-81 triumph over Argentina at the FIBA World Championship on Saturday.
Taking on the team that beat them in the semi-finals of the Olympics two years ago, the United States trailed for the entire first half before claiming a 50-49 lead at the interval with a Carmelo Anthony three-pointer.
Team USA stayed in front the rest of the way.
Elton Brand’s lay-up, five straight points by LeBron James and a steal and fast break by Shane Battier accounted for the US scoring in a 9-2 run that gave them a 69-59 lead late in the third quarter and Argentina got no closer than nine points the remainder of the contest.
Dwyane Wade led the USA with 32 points, 18 of them in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach for Argentina.
After the players were presented with their bronze medals, Wade was asked about his fourth quarter explosion.
“How many, 18? Well, I was just trying to win this game,” Wade said.
“My team-mates gave me the ball. I didn’t have a good game the last two times out so I really wanted to come out and lead my team to victory.”
Argentina started the contest better, with Andres Nocioni’s mid-range jumpshot giving them a 12-4 lead.
The South Americans, who won the Olympic gold medal in Athens, took their biggest advantage at 43-34 after a three-ball from Walter Herrmann, who will be taking on all of these players next season in the NBA after his recent signing with the Charlotte Bobcats.
The US finished the first-half stronger, with a James three-pointer closing the gap to 45-42 and sparking an 11-4 surge at the end the second quarter.
Wade said: “I think early on it was difficult for us but once the game got going, we said, `Hey, we’re out here representing our country’ and we picked it up and started playing like a team.”
Asked about the bronze medal, Wade said: “This is a step that we are trying to take. We still have a lot of hard work to do for the next two years to get to where we want to get to.
“I’m confident in this team and in this organization that we’ll get there.”
If Team USA were disappointed by their 101-95 semi-final setback against Greece, Argentina were devastated by their 75-74 defeat to Spain.
Nocioni had had a chance to win that semi with a three-pointer at the end but missed.
Luis Scola, who led Argentina with 19 points against the United States, said: “We played a bad game. This is not the game we wanted to play in.
“The bronze medal was nevertheless a prize that we wanted to get and we didn’t, simply because we played a team that played better than us and truly deserved it.
“The Americans played really well and they honored this tournament.”
James finished with 22 points and nine rebounds for the United States and Carmelo Anthony added 15.
“We're happy with the progress we've made,” Anthony said. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t do what we came here to do, which was win the gold.”
The United States lost in the quarter-finals of the FIBA World Championship four years ago in Indianapolis, and now they have taken bronze medals at the Athens Olympics and here in Japan.
Anthony, however, says there is no doubt where the best basketball is played in the world.
“We're still on top,” he said. “We still have the best players in the world and we're going to prove that next summer (at the FIBA Americas Championship).”
Nocioni scored 18, Carlos Delfino 13 and Manu Ginobili 10 for the Argentinians. By Jeff Taylor