Bryant's Last Second Shot Carries USA Blue To 105-104 Win In 2007 State Farm USA Basketball Challenge
In a town known for its entertainment, it didn't get any better than the 2007 State Farm USA Basketball Challenge Sunday afternoon at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
Featuring 17 players from USA Basketball Men's Senior National Team divided into Blue and White teams, an energized crowd of 15,132 and a national television audience were treated to a game as entertaining as it was competitive.
Not that it really mattered, but for the record, in the end it was the USA Blue Team that rallied back for the 105-104 win over the USA White squad. But the win was realized only after Kobe Bryant, wearing a USA uniform for the first time, drained the game winner on a 14' jumper above the foul line with :06 left in the game and LeBron James' shot to capture the win for his White team was off target at the buzzer.
'We're really pleased with the training camp. The mini-camp went even better than we imagined and I think that's because of the veterans we added to the team and the maturity of our team both physically and emotionally was just a lot better,' said USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
'They all want to be here; they like one another; and they handled today as true professionals. They played that game very hard and we need to just keeping going with that.'
Following Sunday's intra-squad clash, USA Senior National Team Managing Director Jerry Colangelo announced that the 17 players who participated in the mini-camp had been invited back when the team reassembles in Las Vegas on Aug. 15. The USA team will be reduced to its official 12-member roster before opening play in the FIBA Americas Championship that is being staged Aug. 22-Sept.2 in Las Vegas. The top two finishing teams in the 10-team FIBA Americas Championship will earn qualifying spots for the 2008 Olympics.
'We felt it would be a competitive game and I think that was deliberate and staged because you could bank on the players that we put together would be competitive and you couldn't have scripted it any better,' said Colangelo.
After just two training sessions, the USA closed out its Las Vegas mini-training camp with the State Farm USA Basketball Challenge.
The White team jumped out to 26-23 lead after the first 10 minute quarter, and by halftime owned a
56-49 advantage. Long range shooter Mike Miller and NBA All-Star LeBron James paced the White in the first 20 minutes pumping in 17 and 16 points respectively, while the Blue club stayed within striking distance thanks to Bryant's 17 first half points and 13 points from Carmelo Anthony.
The two teams continued to swing away at each other and with 10 minutes remaining the White led 83-77.
The White opened a lead as large as 11 points in the fourth stanza and enjoyed a 99-89 lead with 5:10 left on the clock. The Blue's Kevin Durant, the youngest member of the USA Senior Team at 18 years old, scored five consecutive points to help get his squad back on track and when Bryant nailed a 3-pointer with 1:35 remaining the game was all even at 101.
Chris Bosh capitalized on one of two free throws to give a one point lead to the White, but Bryant countered with a jumper with 1:04 to play to give the Blue its first lead since holding a 6-5 advantage at the 7:44 mark of the opening quarter.
With the vocal Thomas & Mack crowd on its feet, Jason Kidd pushed the Whie back in front 104-103 with 29 seconds to go when he drove and converted a layup for his one and only shot and his only points of the game. With the clock winding down, Bryant got the ball in his hands and came through big to earn the Blue the win.
The Blue's Anthony headed the game's scoring with 28 points, while adding six rebounds, four assists and three steals. Bryant finished with 26 points, four rebounds, five assists and five steals, while Durant added 22 points and Amare' Stoudemire finished with 12 points and eight boards. Tyson Chandler paced the Blue Team's rebounding with 13 rebounds to go with five points and a pair of blocked shots. Utah Jazz guard Deron Williams handed out nine assists, and added six points.
'It's been a great couple of days. It's a start, we understand that it's a first step and obviously we still have a long way to go but these couple of days were great to get familiar with one another and play within a system and a structure,' said Bryant. 'As you saw today, everybody got a chance to see what we've been going through at practice for the last couple of days - it's extremely competitive, everybody still having a good time and enjoying themselves, but really going at each other and I think that's really what's really going to make us better and help elevate our level.'
The White was led by Miller's 22 points; Dwight Howard collected 21 points and nine rebounds; James waqs credited with 18 points; Michael Redd added 17 point, and Bosh posted a double-double of 13 points and 12 rebounds. Kidd, a 2000 Olympic gold medalist, finished eight assists, and added six rebounds and a pair of steals.
'I think it was great that everybody came in with the mind set to get better,' stated James. 'We knew we weren't going to be here long, but everybody used these three days to get better and it showed in today's game. As well as we played today I'm excited to get back here in August when we finally become one unit and go against the world.'
'Everybody came to compete, there was a lot of competition out there, friendly competition which will make us better. We all have one goal and that is to win the gold medal. You could see that starting at the team meeting Thursday and it just carried over to the game. It was probably better than the All-Star Game. For both teams to compete and push each other, it's just going to make everything easier once it comes to playing the rest of the world,' said Kidd.
"I didn't come here to lose. We have one goal. There's no ego, there's no you know 'who's the best on the team'. This is one team, we win and lose together," said Kidd.