Referees come to aid of battered American stars
Team USA left the Guangzhou Stadium busted up and almost beaten last night, a series of dubious refereeing calls as time ticked away helping them down a spirited Brazil, 90-86, in the final game of the China Basketball Challenge.
'That was a game of a lot of adversity for both teams,' said a relieved US coach Mike Krzyzewski afterwards. 'I think both teams set a record for fouls for a game played in China.'
The actual final foul count was US 28 Brazil 33, but it was the ones at the death that mattered. With Brazil holding an 82-79 lead - and with four minutes left on the clock - the referees seemed to get stars in their eyes, calling two intentional fouls and a technical against the South Americans in quick succession. While the crowd were still scratching their heads, the resulting free throws put the Americans in front - and they held on grimly until the final buzzer.
Brazilian centre Anderson Varejao - a victim of one of the intentionals - was still shaking his head 20 minutes after the final buzzer. 'I have no idea what it was for,' he said. 'He didn't explain what it was for; [the referee] didn't say anything.'
For a long while it looked as if it would be a night the Americans would want to forget - and fast.
In the space of five minutes in the first half they had seen star forward Carmelo Anthony crash into the scorers' table before being carried off to the changing rooms clutching his right knee; Antawn Jamison shuffle off the floor after twisting his knee; and LeBron James forced to stuff plugs up both nostrils to stop the stem of blood after copping a hand to the face.
Despite the battering they still managed to go into the break leading 52-38 but within five minutes, the game had been turned on its ear. Brazil beefed up their big-man presence and the one-two punch of the Cleveland Cavaliers' Varejao and Tiago Splitter put the Brazilians on a 16-0 tear that gave them the lead. It seesawed for the remainder of the contest and the packed gymnasium crowd began to sense a upset.
But then came the calls, and the US escaped.
The Brazilians had already lost star guard Leandro Barbosa, who fouled out midway through the third period. He had scored 14 point at the time and they could have used his touch at the end.
It was the loss of Anthony that hurt the US most. His 16 first-half point led their scorers even though he never again took the court. Team officials said he had overextended his knee and he will have tests today, though he seemed to be moving freely by game's end.
The Americans had found it hard against an aggressive Brazilian outfit who went at their more fancied opponents at every opportunity, a trend reflected in their dominance on the boards with 41 rebounds to their opponents' 25.
American centre Brad Miller said he was not surprised by the aggression. 'At this level it is what you get,' he said. 'Game in game out, they will come right at us.'
It was a sentiment shared by his coach. 'I thought we tried but they were at times bigger than us on the court and they were aggressive,' said Krzyzewski, before he joined his team for a flight to Hong Kong for some rest and recuperation.
'But it was a crazy game, no question about it.''