by Lang Whitaker

Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade combined to score 64 points on 77 percent shooting, and the dynamic duo led the US back from a 9 point halftime deficit to a 9 point win over a feisty Italian team. Melo was especially hot, scoring 19 in the third quarter on a variety of difficult jumpers to finish with a game-high 35 points.

Some notes…
• Only six US players scored in the game (Melo, Wade, LeBron, Chris Paul, Elton Brand and Kirk Hinrich). They also combined to shoot 19 of 34 from the free throw line for a dismal 56 percent.

• LeBron James had by far his worst game of the tournament. He was cold in the first quarter and forced a few ill-advised jumpers while letting his man hit two threes, and though Bron played 25 minutes he finished with just 8 points and 3 rebounds.

• Italy’s Marco Belinelli posted perhaps the best individual performance versus the US yet, finishing with 25 points and repeatedly beating defenders to sink open jumpers. Point guard Fabio Di Bella was also solid, putting up 12 points and 5 assists while playing sound defense.

• This was an interesting game from start to finish. The US led after one, 25-19, after finishing the first on a 15-4 run. The US then went ice cold in the second quarter as Italy got hot, and Italy won the quarter 26-11, grabbing a 45-36 lead going into halftime.

• Elton Brand was the US’s best player in the first half. The US tried to attack Italy’s man-to-man defense by isolating various players, and Brand was really the only guy who was able to get his shots to drop.

• With the US putting up that miserable second quarter, Coach K was forced to juggle his lineups. For the majority of the second half he used a five of Chris Paul, Wade, LeBron, Melo and Brand. Joe Johnson had a nice run in the second quarter, playing really tough defense on the ball.

• On the downside, Kirk Hinrich played 15 minutes, scoring 4 and dishing just 1 assist. Shane Battier also played 15 minutes and didn’t score, didn’t grab a rebound and didn’t notch an assist. He did draw two charges, though. And he went to Duke.

• Dwight Howard, who’d played so well thus far, got his legs accidentally knocked out from under him early in the second quarter and landed flat on his back, staying down for a few minutes. He played sparingly after that accident, and it was just after Dwight went down that Italy went on their 26-11 run.

• I loved the spirit Italy played with. They totally weren’t afraid of Team USA, particularly Matteo Soragna, who got Dwyane Wade out of his game in the first half and played with the same sort of dogged resolve as Italian midfielder Gattuso. Andrea Michelori swung an elbow at Chris Paul after the got tangled up going for a loose ball, and LeBron ran over and immediately stood up for his little buddy.

• I had an idea that Italy was in trouble when they started a guy named Gigli.

• All anyone has to do is mention a country competing in the World Basketball Championships, and ESPN’s Fran Frachilla will immediately tell you how many NBA players that country has. Which is a nice party trick and all, but being in the NBA isn’t the be-all and end-all — Italy has no NBA players, and they gave the US their best game yet.

• The worst three-point defense (percentage-wise) of any team in the tournament? Team USA.

• There’s this thing a lot of the teams in FIBA do where they constantly foul to stop a fastbreak. I’d love to see the stats to see if it’s a good strategy or not — is it worth putting your opponent in the penalty to stop them from getting a layup? It does work well as far as stopping the momentum of the game.

• I mentioned the other day how Team USA seems to always give up at least one big shot at the end of a quarter. They didn’t do that this morning, but they did allow Italy to make a 10-3 run to end the second quarter, including five straight points.