ATHENS, Greece – After the United States had all but dusted Spain 102-94, after Larry Brown had called time out with 23 seconds remaining (he claims, unconvincingly, by mistake), Spanish coach Mario Pesquera got in Brown's face screaming about ugly Americans.
So Brown, not understanding a word of Spanish, went right back at Pesquera.
"You want some of me?" he screamed.
Isn't this perfect? Brown, the coach who has spent half these Olympics complaining about how his players don't respect the game or its opponents, causing the chaos that fuels the image of this team as big, bad Americans?
The crux of the incident was a time out Brown called with 23 seconds left and an 11-point lead. Spain took it as a classic rub-it-in-your-face move.
Brown said he tried to call time out when the lead was just eight and then tried to wave it off when the lead stretched, but the scorer's table made him take it.
"I'm still trying to teach and win the game," said Brown, who apologized for the screw up.
Brown's explanation makes no sense at all. With 33 seconds remaining Allen Iverson made two free throws to extend the lead to 11. Brown had not called a time out at that point; if he had, play would have stopped. It didn't.
After Spain missed a three with 27 seconds left Stephon Marbury was fouled and the time out was called at 23.
The time out was absolutely, positively called with the U.S. leading by 11. Pesquera knew it.
"I had, I stress had, a lot of respect for Larry Brown," a heated Pesquera told a postgame press conference. "Dean Smith never would have done anything like that."
Brown, of course, played under Smith at North Carolina and reveres the legendary coach, making that a pointed and personal shot.
"This was like a disagreement with my son," Brown said. "Sometimes he doesn't let you explain. I tried to explain but he didn't want to hear it.
"Again, I never try to embarrass anyone."
The confrontation made for equal parts drama and comedy. It stands to reason Team USA will play better as the villain than the hapless fading power they seemed to be after dropping two games in pool play.
As much as Pesquera had a reason to be angry, he is a bit of a crackpot himself.
He used the postgame press conference to rail about the officiating, even though U.S. was whistled for 10 more total fouls.
He whined that his previously undefeated team was now out of medal contention, like he never heard of a single-elimination tournament.
He saved the best for last. "I think we were the stronger team," he said.
Hey, coach, your team just got drummed. Spare us.
In a spirited game, Brown's players hung together and played tremendously to push the U.S. into Friday's semifinals.
They played their best game of the Olympics, shooting 55 percent from beyond the three and riding 31 points from Stephon Marbury to the win.
"It is going to be hard to beat them if they play like that," said Spain's Pau Gasol, who hurt Team USA with 29 points.
There is no margin of error for this U.S. team here. It has to maximize itself to win the gold. On Thursday, they did exactly that.
They played with heart. They moved the ball (16 assists), shot well and defended the perimeter.
"We played with a lot of emotion," said Marbury, who hit six of nine threes and finally punished an opponent for playing zone defense. "We're growing as a team each and every day. We've been playing against zone so much we're starting to like playing against zone.
"We don't have any relief," Marbury continued. "The relief will come in two games if we win the gold. We're not relaxed at all. Everyone understands that this game is in the past."
Everyone but a still-angry Spanish coach.
- Stephon Marbury