Team USA Smashes Puerto Rico 114-69Team USA routed Puerto Rico 114-69 in the State Farm Basketball Challenge, played at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. This was the first exhibition game for the U.S. as the team prepares for the FIBA World Championship. Puerto Rico is ranked 11th in the FIBA rankings, but did hand the United States an embarrassing loss in the 2004 Olympics.
The international game is very different from the NBA game and even the best players require some time to adjust. FIBA basketball consists of four 10 minute quarters, disqualifies players after five fouls (instead of six in the NBA), allows offensive interference/goaltending and utilizes a trapezoid lane and short three point line (20 feet six inches compared to the NBA's 23 feet nine inches). The officiating is also different, which is why I was surprised that two of the three State Farm Basketball Challenge referees came from the NBA. I don't know the logisitics involved, but if it were possible I think that USA Basketball should have arranged to have three FIBA referees call the game.
The U.S. started Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade at guard, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony at forward and Chris Bosh at center. Puerto Rico countered with guards Carlos Arroyo and Elias Ayuso, forwards Antonio Latimer and Carmelo Lee and center Daniel Santiago. The U.S. quickly broke out to leads of 6-0 and 9-2, but Puerto Rico fought back and even briefly led. At the end of the first quarter, the score was 29-26 U.S. Anthony had 11 points. The U.S. forced six turnovers but shot only 43% from the field, while Puerto Rico took advantage of excellent dribble penetration to create high percentage shots, connecting on 53% of their attempts.
The U.S. shot 0-6 from the field to begin the second quarter and Puerto Rico took a 33-29 lead. Then the wheels fell off for Puerto Rico, as the U.S. forced numerous turnovers and went on a 19-2 run to close the quarter. By halftime, the Americans led 48-35 and had scored 19 points off of 14 first half turnovers by Puerto Rico.
A 12-0 run to start the third quarter gave the U.S. a 60-35 lead and Puerto Rico never made a serious run the rest of the game. Puerto Rico shot 1-12 from the field in the third quarter as the U.S. really turned up the defense.
Carmelo Anthony led the U.S. with 18 points and Antawn Jamison had 16. Dwyane Wade had 14 points and four assists, while LeBron James contributed 10 points, five assists and four rebounds.
So what does all of this mean? After all, the U.S. soundly defeated Puerto Rico in an exhibition game in 2004 before losing the one that counted in that year's Olympics. I saw three things in this game that I liked for the U.S. One, the defensive energy and intensity were very evident. Shane Battier dove on the floor for a loose ball, Brad Miller flew into the Puerto Rico bench to try to keep a ball in play and the U.S. had many steals and blocks. Two, the U.S. seems to have a better understanding of how to react to the high screen and roll plays that international teams love. Puerto Rico, Argentina and other teams killed the U.S. with those plays in the 2004 Olympics but in this game the U.S. bigs and the U.S. guards were positioned much better and did not give up so many wide open threes. Three, the U.S. used pressure defense and their superior depth to wear down Puerto Rico and create high percentage fast break opportunities. That is how the original, real Dream Team played. The question now is if this U.S. team can continue to do those three things when the games count against the very best international teams. I like the way this team is being coached and the way the players are responding to the coaching.
posted by David Friedman @ 2:19 AM