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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Team USA Wears Down Germany, 85-65

Team USA outscored Germany 27-13 in the third quarter and held Dirk Nowitzki to 15 points in an 85-65 win in the quarterfinals of the FIBA World Championships. Carmelo Anthony led the way with 19 points, including 10 in the decisive third quarter. LeBron James (13), Joe Johnson (11) and Dwight Howard (10) also scored in double figures. Dwyane Wade shot 1-11 from the field and only scored three points, but he led Team USA in assists (five) and tied with Howard and Chris Bosh with a team-high seven rebounds.

In what has become a familiar pattern, Team USA again began the game sluggishly. Team USA started Elton Brand, Shane Battier, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Chris Paul against Germany. Steffen Hamann blew by a stumbling Paul for a layup to open the scoring and Germany built an 11-6 lead before Wade and Kirk Hinrich checked in at the 5:24 mark. In previous games, Wade's arrival has typically sparked a run by Team USA and this game was no exception. Anthony hit two free throws (from a foul he drew before the timeout when Wade entered) and on the next possession James' jump shot cut the lead to 11-10. James had seven of Team USA's 10 points; he has been doing most of his scoring early in games. Wade then hit his only field goal of the night, a trademark bank shot, and the U.S. led 12-11 with 4:33 remaining after a 6-0 run in less than a minute.

Germany stayed close for the rest of the quarter despite getting only four points from Nowitzki, who also committed two fouls in the opening stanza; he made only one of his first six field goal attempts and shot just 3-12 from the field for the game, although he did make all nine of his free throws. Howard's three point play gave Team USA a 23-21 lead going into the second quarter.

Two Hamann free throws and a fast break layup by Ademola Okulaja put Germany back on top, 25-23. Germany's two-three zone seemed to befuddle Team USA in the halfcourt, leading to a lot of forced jump shots. Team USA shot 10-40 from three point range for the game, proving the point that I have stressed here repeatedly: it is less important for Team USA to shoot well from the three point line than it is to defend well from that area; Germany only shot 3-13 on three pointers, with Nowitzki going 0-2. Attempting 40 three pointers is not likely a recipe for victory in the semifinals or championship game but the key in international basketball--and part of what killed Team USA in previous competitions--was allowing the other teams to shoot well from three point range. Team USA still gets burned too much by dribble penetration and pick and roll plays but their depth and ability to force turnovers have compensated for that--so far.

Nowitzki was forced to the bench after he collected his third foul with 3:04 remaining in the second quarter. Remember, it only takes five fouls for disqualification in FIBA play, not the six that are permitted in the NBA. Nowitzki hacked Howard after Wade drove to the paint and found him with a nice dish. Howard hit both free throws to put Team USA up 35-33. Wade assisted on Carmelo Anthony's jump shot on the next U.S. possession. With about two minutes left before halftime, Wade stole the ball and seemed to be cruising in for an easy fast break layup. However, he missed the shot and then received a hard--but inadvertent--elbow to the face from Pascal Roller while both players pursued the loose ball. Wade crumpled to the court while Germany converted a fast break opportunity. Wade left the game under his own power and did not return until midway through the third quarter (his normal time to enter the game as Coach Mike Krzyzewski's sixth man).

Okulaja's two free throws and putback dunk gave Germany a 39-37 lead, but Okulaja soon joined Nowitzki on the bench with three fouls. Anthony hit a three pointer and Team USA had a precarious 40-39 halftime lead. A glance at the halftime statistics revealed some gruesome shooting numbers for both teams: 14-44 field goal shooting (.318) for Team USA, including 5-20 from three point range (.250), and 12-29 field goal shooting (.414) for Germany, including 2-7 beyond the arc (.286). Although Nowitzki shot poorly, he attracted a lot of defensive attention, which opened up opportunities for his teammates.

James began the second half with a steal and fast break layup and Team USA's depth, quickness and pressure defense began to take a toll on Germany. Anthony made two fast break baskets and hit a three pointer and Brand had a tip in dunk as the U.S. went on a 9-2 run to take a 51-43 lead. Wade returned to action at the 5:30 mark and immediately picked up another assist on an Anthony three pointer. Wade shot an airball the next time down the court but was undeterred on the ensuing possession, attacking the basket and earning two free throws. He made one of two to give Team USA a double digit lead for the first time in the game. Team USA pushed the margin to 67-52 by the end of the quarter.

Team USA led 72-54 early in the fourth quarter after Chris Paul's steal and layup followed by a Bosh three pointer. Germany never got closer than 11 points after that. Team USA's next opponent will be Greece, winners of last year's European Championship. Greece is 7-0 in this tournament despite not having a single NBA player or anyone averaging more than 11.5 ppg. Their opponents have more rebounds, more assists and have shot better from three point range, but Greece has done a good job of both protecting the ball and forcing turnovers. Team USA--admittedly with a vastly different roster--only beat Greece by six, 77-71, in the 2004 Olympics, so this game figures to be Team USA's toughest challenge yet. Interestingly, none of the quarterfinal games were close: Greece beat France 73-56, Argentina defeated Turkey 83-58 and Spain downed Lithuania 89-67. All of the remaining teams are undefeated. Argentina and Spain face off in the first semifinal, which will be shown on ESPN2 at 3:30 a.m. EST on Friday; Team USA-Greece will tip off at 6:30 a.m. EST, also on ESPN2.

EDIT (8/31/06): As part of what seems to be a concerted effort to make sure that nobody knows for sure when the games will actually be broadcast, ESPN now says that Team USA's game versus Greece will be shown at 3:30 a.m., not 6:30 a.m.--the time that was announced repeatedly at the end of the U.S.-Germany game. Anyone who has tried to find out the broadcast schedule for Team USA will not be surprised by this change. So, set your VCR/TIVO accordingly--and hope that ESPN doesn't change things again.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:05 PM



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