USA Basketball: Russia meets Kobe
Kobe Byrant scored 11 of his 19 points in the third quarter to lead the U.S. Olympic team to an 89-68 victory over Russia on Sunday. Carmelo Anthony added 17 points in what was by far the Americans' most competitive tune-up yet for the Olympics. Having averaged 118 points in winning its first three exhibitions by an average of 41 points, the U.S. found itself in a more competitive game against the Russians, who slowed the pace the entire contest.
The U.S built a 12-point lead after the first quarter and extended the margin to 46-31 at the break. The Americans remained in control despite scoring just 17 points in the second quarter. With Team USA leading 50-33 and 8:19 to play in the third quarter, Bryant scored his team's next 11 points on an assortment of dazzling moves.
"They had some gaps there and I just took advantage of them," Bryant said. "The ball found me and I was able to make them pay. In that kind of situation where the game is kind of see-sawing back and forth, we have so many weapons - it could be LeBron (James), it could be D-Wade, one of us is going to kick into high gear."
The sellout crowd of 14,523 clearly favored the United States, and Bryant clearly was the fans' favorite. They chanted "MVP!" when he went to the free-throw line, and generally oohed and aahed whenever he squared up to take a shot.
"It feels like home away from home," Bryant said. "It's great to be so far from Staples Center and still have so much support. I feel like I'm home." 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 yesterday, since he's the Americans' best half court player.