SAITAMA, Japan – The European champions are playing for a much bigger prize. The best the United States can hope for is yet another bronze medal.
Greece used a sizzling stretch of shooting across the middle two quarters to turn a 12-point deficit into a 14-point lead, and beat the Americans 101-95 Friday in the semifinals of the world championships.
The Greeks (8-0) can add a world title to the European championship they won in 2005 with a victory over either Spain or Argentina in Sunday's gold medal game. Those teams, also undefeated, met in Friday's second game.
The Greeks — with no current NBA players on their roster — danced in a circle at halfcourt after their victory over an American team put together after a series of recent failures.
Done in again by their inept 3-point shooting — and they weren't much better from the foul line — the Americans will fall short of a championship in a major international tournament for the third straight time.
The U.S. (7-1) will return to the court Saturday against the loser of the Argentina-Spain game, hoping to match the bronze medal it left Athens with in 2004.
Carmelo Anthony scored 27 points for the Americans, who couldn't overcome their 32 percent shooting from 3-point range or 59 percent from the foul line. Dwyane Wade added 19 and LeBron James had 17, but the three U.S. captains were unable to avenge their disappointment from Athens.
Vassilis Spanoulis, bound for the Houston Rockets, scored 22 points for Greece. Mihalis Kakiouzis added 15 and 6-foot-10 Sofoklis Schortsianitis — nicknamed "Baby Shaq" — added 14, shooting 6-of-7. The Greeks shot 63 percent (35-of-56) from the field and made 31 of 44 shots across the final three periods.
The U.S. hasn't even played for a world championship since winning the last of its three titles in Toronto in 1994. Mike Krzyzewski — who was looking for gold after winning bronze with the 1990 team — and a few American players walked to midcourt to congratulate the Greeks, while most of the U.S. quickly headed to the locker room.
The Americans, who put together a national team program this year for the first time after their recent failures, now will be forced to qualify for the 2008 Olympics next summer in the FIBA Americas tournament in Venezuela.
The U.S. seemed in control after Joe Johnson's 3-pointer gave the Americans a 33-21 lead with about 6 1/2 minutes left in the second quarter. It was around then that James told his teammates on the bench: "They don't know what to do."
Well, they figured it out in a hurry.
Greece scored nine straight points, pulling within three on Theodoros Papaloukas' drive with 3:51 left and forcing Krzyzewski to call timeout. Dwight Howard converted a three-point play, but the Greeks answered with a 13-2 surge, featuring eight points from Schortsianitis, to open a 43-38 advantage and force Krzyzewski to call a second timeout.
Greece hit nine straight shots — its only miss in the last 5 minutes was a heave from halfcourt as time expired — and led 45-41 at halftime. The Greeks shot 56 percent (15-of-27) in the half.
The Americans were 2-of-10 from behind the arc — after going 10-for-40 in their quarterfinal victory over Germany — and trailed at the break for only the second time in the tournament. Italy had a nine-point cushion in a group play game.
The U.S. also had nine turnovers — about two below their tournament average for a game — and was 11-of-17 (65 percent) at the foul line.
Greece kept it up in the third quarter, hitting 14 of its 18 shots, including all four 3-pointers in the first 5 minutes. Kostas Tsartsaris' 3-pointer with 5:45 left in the period gave the Greeks a 65-51 lead — the biggest deficit the U.S. faced in the tournament.
After shooting 4-of-12 in the first quarter, Greece was 25-of-33 (76 percent) in the second and third and led 77-65 heading to the final period.
Anthony, Wade and James combined for the first 18 U.S. points in the quarter, and the Americans eventually got as close as 95-91 on Kirk Hinrich's 3 with 36 seconds to play. But the U.S. missed its final two attempts from behind the arc, capping a 9-of-28 night.