Greece Shreds Team USA's Defense, Wins 101-95Greece dissected Team USA's pick and roll defense to post a 101-95 victory in the semifinals of the FIBA World Championships. Vasileios Spanoulis led Greece with 22 points, including six free throws after he was fouled while attempting three point shots. Mihalis Kakiouzis added 15 points and Sofoklis Schortsanitis, who is nicknamed "Baby Shaq" but much more closely resembles Robert "Tractor" Traylor, scored 14 points on 6-7 shooting from the field. He scored some of his hoops from point blank range after pick and roll plays and the 300-plus pounder also beat Team USA down the court several times to score on fast break layups.
Carmelo Anthony had a game-high 27 points, Dwyane Wade had 19 and LeBron James contributed 17--including 10 in the fourth quarter--but Team USA's problem was not on the offensive end. Sure, Team USA did not help its cause by shooting 9-28 from three point range or an even more brutal 20-34 from the free throw line but look at the final score again: Team USA scored 95 points in a 40 minute game and that should be more than enough to win. What killed Team USA was Greece's 8-18 three point shooting and Greece's 35-56 field goal shooting overall. Greece outscored Team USA 32-24 in the decisive third quarter, shooting a sizzling 14-18 from the field. Team USA was not able to rattle Greece's ball handlers to force turnovers, nor did Team USA have any answers for Greece's top of the key pick and roll play. Greece got whatever it wanted from that play: open three pointers, wide open cutters for layups or mismatches in the post when the U.S. switched and failed to double team quickly enough. Greece has no players on its roster who are currently in the NBA--Spanoulis will play for the Houston Rockets this season--but don't for a second think that their players are unskilled. Also, don't forget the aforementioned fouls on Spanoulis--one by James, one by Kirk Hinrich; after all, those points provided the final margin of victory. Team USA made other mental errors as well; Wade shot too soon as the third quarter ended, enabling Greece to get a rebound and score on a fast break at the buzzer. Also, this may sound like sacrilege considering all the points that he scored and the big shots that he made, but Carmelo Anthony gives up a lot at the other end of the court. Yes, he gets steals, but he also gets out of position often, leaving his man open, which leads to an eventual breakdown of the defense.
Team USA actually got off to a good start, a rarity in this tournament, and led 20-14 at the end of the first quarter. Around that point, ESPN2's Fran Fraschilla lauded Team USA's good defense but, while Team USA did force a shot clock violation and certainly was playing hard, that kind of score meant that the game was being played at Greece's pace. Team USA took its biggest lead, 33-21, after a Joe Johnson three pointer early in the second quarter and, according to an Associated Press report, LeBron James told his teammates on the bench, "They don't know what to do."
Greece then went on a 24-8 run to close out the half; remarkably, after they took a 39-38 lead on Schortsanitis' layup at the 1:48 mark they never trailed again. Greece repeatedly beat Team USA down the court and seemed to score as many points in transition as Team USA did. Greece outplayed Team USA both in uptempo situations and in the halfcourt. Greece led by as many as 14 points in the second half and, although I hate the cliche that I am about to write in this case it is true: the game was not as close as the final score indicates. Greece controlled the action for the entire second half and Team USA never could even get close enough to make it a one possession game. James scored on a two handed dunk with seconds remaining, Team USA had to foul and two Kakiouzis free throws closed out the scoring.
I can't say that Greece's win is shocking. Even after Team USA's 40 point win over Australia I was not convinced that Team USA could beat the top FIBA teams, which is why I wrote the following passage in my post about that game:
"Although Team USA won handily, in the opening minutes of the game Australia repeatedly burned Team USA with dribble penetration and by draining open three pointers. If Team USA plays that poorly against Argentina or Spain then they will be down by ten points or more very quickly. Maybe it seems strange to critique Team USA after such a decisive win but the simple fact is that teams like Italy, Slovenia and Australia have revealed the chinks in Team USA's armor: Team USA struggles to defend against the three point shot, can be attacked with dribble penetration and is much better at scoring in transition than in a half court offense. Those three teams do not have enough depth to take advantage of these things for an entire 40 minute game but they have provided a blueprint for beating Team USA that can be applied by teams that have more depth and experience."
For all the talk about how well this team has come together and how poorly the 2004 version of Team USA supposedly played in the Athens Olympics under Larry Brown, Mike Krzyzewski's squad will have to win one more game just to equal the 2004 team's bronze medal performance--and that will hardly be an easy task, since Team USA will face the loser of the Argentina-Spain semifinal matchup and both of those teams are undefeated so far.
Don't get me wrong--I don't consider this team to be a failure, but neither was the 2004 team a failure. The United States simply cannot throw a team together in three weeks, no matter how talented and well coached it might be, and expect to beat national teams that have played together for years under FIBA rules. The current version of Team USA, with some key personnel additions--most notably Kobe Bryant--certainly can win an Olympic gold medal in 2008 if they have enough practice time together as a unit. First though, Team USA must qualify for the Olympics with a good performance in the Tournament of the Americas in Venezuela next summer.
posted by David Friedman @ 6:08 AM