Notebook: U.S., Argentina clinch berths in Olympics
The Associated Press
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The United States qualified for the Olympics without throwing any punches, getting hit by too much debris or blowing a huge lead — but just barely in all three instances.
In a game marred by an altercation between Tracy McGrady of the Orlando Magic and Eddie Casiano, the U.S. team defeated Puerto Rico 87-71 last night at the FIBA Americas Men's Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
Also qualifying for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, was Argentina, which defeated Canada 88-72 in the other semifinal game.
The United States and Argentina play in the gold-medal game tonight. The winner of the bronze-medal game between Puerto Rico and Canada also will earn a berth in the Olympics.
Sonics guard Ray Allen started for injured Philadelphia guard Allen Iverson, who has a sprained thumb and also will miss tonight's game. Allen led the U.S. team with 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting.
Although the U.S. team's victory was fairly easy, it almost got ugly.
A shoving match broke out between McGrady and Casiano at the end of the first half. It was broken up by players and coaches from both teams as fans tossed drinks and debris onto the court. Both teams left the court peacefully, and there were no further altercations.
"That's the difference between the first Dream Team and the rest. The first were players with class, these are immature kids," Casiano said of the Americans. "They have huge talent, but they need to grow up."
Puerto Rico had an 11-0 run in the fourth quarter and eventually pulled to 81-71 with just over four minutes remaining on a drive by Carlos Arroyo, but Puerto Rico did not score again.
"The game was getting out of hand and we lost our poise," U.S. coach Larry Brown said. "We're disappointed with the way things turned out, but we won and we're going to Greece and we have to finish this thing tomorrow."
The U.S. team took the lead for good less than four minutes into the first quarter and was ahead 26-17 entering the second quarter after McGrady beat the buzzer with a tip-in.
Arroyo made it 36-31 with 4:22 left, and Kenyon Martin of the New Jersey Nets gave the Americans back some breathing room with two dunks — an alley-oop off a pass from Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs and a follow slam of Duncan's miss — to restore a double-digit lead 2-1/2 minutes before halftime.
Then the ugly stuff began.
With Casiano dribbling on the perimeter as Puerto Rico was holding the ball for a last shot, McGrady defended him physically — repeatedly bumping Casiano and swatting at him as he tried to steal the ball, with Casiano trying to elbow McGrady away.
Casiano eventually lost the ball and fell to the floor, with the ball rolling toward the American basket. McGrady picked the ball up as the other nine players stayed at the other end of the floor. Before dunking it, McGrady turned and stared at Casiano.
McGrady said he turned back toward Casiano because he thought he heard a whistle — not because he was taunting him.
Casiano pointed at McGrady and yelled at him while slowly backing away. Coaches from both teams separated the players.
Brown, who was hit by a tossed beer, said assistant coach Roy Williams was hit in the chest by a coin.
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