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Monday, August 21, 2006

Team USA Routs China 121-90

Team USA beat China 121-90 in the second game of the preliminary round of the FIBA World Championships. Shane Battier scored the first five U.S. points, hitting a three pointer from the left baseline and a driving layup, and the U.S. never trailed. America led 21-8 at the 4:54 mark of the first quarter; Carmelo Anthony already had seven points by that time. U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski then replaced the starting lineup of Anthony, Battier, LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Chris Paul with Dwyane Wade, Kirk Hinrich, Joe Johnson, Antawn Jamison and Elton Brand and the U.S. kept rolling along, pushing the margin to 32-17 by the end of the first quarter.

A positive note for China--and the Houston Rockets--is that Yao Ming seems to be completely recovered from his broken foot. He had 21 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out, displaying an assortment of low post moves and his usual good free throw shooting touch (11-13). China's team includes nine players who are younger than 25. Foremost amongst that group is 6-11 Jianlian Yi, who had 13 points and seven rebounds. ESPN2 analyst Fran Fraschilla said that the 18 year old Yi could be a lottery pick if he declares for the NBA Draft in a few years. He also noted that because of the Chinese team's inexperience that they basically had no chance to beat the U.S. team and that the Chinese coaching staff was using this game as an opportunity to work on some things for the future. Fraschilla contended that this explained why China almost exclusively used man to man defense instead of zone defense, which is the better strategy against the U.S. team but runs counter to the system that the Chinese coaching staff is installing.

Team USA led 63-38 at halftime. Dwyane Wade had 15 points and Chris Paul scored 11. Fraschilla likened the contest to a college team playing a game from its non-conference schedule. All the U.S. has to do to advance to the next round is finish at least fourth out of the six teams in Group D, but ESPN2's Jim Durham pointed out that after Group D play the World Championships are "one and done," so the pressure will greatly increase next week. The U.S. must still tighten up its defense against dribble penetration and against the three point shot. China opened the second half with a 10-0 run, capped by a deft Yao Ming pass to a cutting Wang Shipeng on the baseline. On the previous play, someone on the U.S. bench shouted out "Watch the double screen," but it was to no avail as Shipeng popped open and buried a three pointer. The U.S. did not score in the third quarter until Carmelo Anthony's baseline drive at the 6:48 mark. While Team USA had a safe margin in this game, scoring droughts of over three minutes combined with bad defense at the three point line and against cutters will not get the job done against the better teams in this tournament. In this game, the U.S. simply had too much firepower and China never threatened again. Wade led eight U.S. double-figure scorers with 26 points, while Anthony and Howard had 16 points each.

Following the score in this game was even more of an adventure than in the Puerto Rico game. Durham reported that a Carmelo Anthony basket was wiped away, only to then say a few minutes later that the two points did in fact count. With a little over five minutes left in the fourth quarter, Krzyzewski could be heard loudly complaining that the score was not right and that Team USA should have one more point. Eventually, the scorekeepers agreed and changed the score; I rewound the game tape and could not find the discrepancy that Krzyzewski was talking about. He said something about a U.S. player making both free throws and only being credited with one, but unless he was referring to something much earlier in the game that either did not happen or it was not reflected on the score that ESPN2 displayed. While all of this was going on, Fraschilla said, "Welcome to international basketball" and suggested that these kinds of things are bound to occur because of the language barrier, to which Durham immediately quipped, "What does that have to do with math?"

Another interesting scoreboard situation happened when ESPN2 went to a commercial break during a timeout with 4:36 remaining in the fourth quarter and the U.S. ahead 109-76. When ESPN2 returned, the timeout was apparently still going on, but the clock showed 4:31 and the score was now 111-77. I guess it's possible that in five seconds the U.S. scored, fouled China and China made one free throw before one of the teams called another timeout, but neither Durham nor Fraschilla mentioned that any action had happened during the commercial break, nor did they allude to the score and clock situation changing. The impressionistic scoring and timekeeping doesn't matter in a 30 point blowout, but it makes one wonder what might happen if the U.S. is involved in a close game. I cannot tell if ESPN2 is keeping score separately, as I suspected while watching the Puerto Rico game, or if they have some way of knowing what is being displayed on the scoreboard in Japan (which is never shown during the television broadcast); so I'm not sure if it is FIBA, ESPN2 or both who are having trouble keeping track of the score.

posted by David Friedman @ 5:01 AM

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