U.S. survives first test

The United States survived its first tough test at the world basketball championships, edging Brazil 70-68 on Monday when Leandro Barbosa’s shot rattled out at the buzzer.

USA’s Kevin Durant

USA’s Kevin Durant

USA 70 Brazil 68

ISTANBUL, Turkey — The United States survived its first tough test at the world basketball championships, edging Brazil 70-68 on Monday when Leandro Barbosa’s shot rattled out at the buzzer.

Kevin Durant scored 27 points and Chauncey Billups added 15 for the Americans (3-0), who essentially clinched Group B with the victory. But this was further proof that a world title won’t come easily for this young U.S. team — if it comes at all.

After the Americans trailed most of the first 2 1/2 quarters, Lamar Odom’s dunk with 7:14 left put them ahead 64-62. But they couldn’t build on the lead during a tense final few minutes, and Brazil had two chances to send the game to overtime.

Following a miss by Billups, Brazil got the ball and Marcelo Huertas was fouled on a drive to the basket with 3.5 seconds remaining.

He missed the first free throw and then the second intentionally, tracking it down in the corner and firing it underneath to Barbosa, who put up a shot over Kevin Love, only to have it bounce off the back and front of the rim.

Barbosa finished with 14 points after a strong start for Brazil (2-1). Marcus Vinicius scored 16, and Tiago Splitter had 13 while battling foul trouble in the second half.

With NBA big men Nene, Anderson Varejao and Splitter, Brazil was considered one of the teams with enough size to topple the undersized Americans.

Nene had to pull out with an injury and Varejao sat out again while continuing to rest a sprained right ankle, so the Brazilians turned to a speed game to lead for much of the game.

They just couldn’t finish the upset, leaving the Americans needing only a victory over Iran or Tunisia, the bottom two teams in Group B, or another Brazil loss to earn the top seed from the group and three full days off before meeting the No. 4 seed from Group A on Sept. 6.

The Americans have plenty to work on before worrying about that, after needing a huge night from Durant and 31 minutes from Billups, the old man of the team at 33, to pull this one out.

The U.S. team has none of its 2008 Olympic gold medallists , and nowhere was it more apparent than in the matchup with Barbosa.

When the teams last met, in their 2007 Olympic qualifier, Barbosa entered as the tournament’s leading scorer before Kobe Bryant led a defensive effort that held him to four points on 1-of-7 shooting in an easy U.S. win.

There’s no defenders like Bryant here, and Barbosa took advantage in the first quarter by making two three-pointers and scoring eight points.

Brazil made 12 of its first 16 shots in the period and its first four 3-pointers, streaks that were snapped when Barbosa was just short on a halfcourt heave at the buzzer, leaving them with a 28-22 lead.

Brazil extended its lead to eight early in the second quarter and was still up seven midway through the period, but with Splitter on the bench with two fouls, and Barbosa and Alex Garcia joining him, the Americans cut it to one a couple of times.

Splitter’s dunk sent the Brazilians to the half with a 46-43 advantage.

The Americans finally grabbed the lead midway through the third, extending it to 61-55 after consecutive baskets by Durant. Barbosa scored the final four points of the period, though, and pulled Brazil within two heading to the fourth.

The crowd grew solidly behind the underdogs, cheering loudly for Brazil baskets and booing loudly when a small “U-S-A!” chant broke out in the fourth.

Brazil is coached by Ruben Magnano, who guided Argentina to victories over the U.S. in the 2002 worlds and 2004 Olympics, when the Argentines won gold. He nearly authored another upset.

U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski used his reserves liberally in the first two games, but gave much longer runs to the starters Monday after the backups were ineffective during their first stints.

Durant flourished with the extra workload, making four three-pointers.

The Americans had been pushed at times in their victories over Croatia and Slovenia, but hadn’t had to work after halftime. But this tournament isn’t expected to be easy for a young U.S. team that lacks the big-game experience of its Olympic predecessors.

And Monday’s game proved it won’t be.