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Saturday, September 02, 2006

Team USA Beats Argentina 96-81, Wins Bronze Medal

Team USA outscored Argentina 46-32 in the second half, breaking open a close game and seizing the bronze medal in the FIBA World Championships with a 96-81 victory. Dwyane Wade led Team USA with 32 points, including 18 in a fourth quarter explosion that was reminiscent of the kind of play that earned him the 2006 NBA Finals MVP. LeBron James flirted with a triple double (20 points, nine rebounds, seven assists), while Carmelo Anthony (15) and Elton Brand (13) also scored in double figures. Luis Scola led Argentina with 19 points but he fouled out after only playing 21 minutes. Andres Nocioni contributed 18 points and Carlos Delfino had 13, including a spectacular two hand dunk that gave Argentina a 40-34 lead in the second quarter. Manu Ginobili was held to 10 points on 2-9 shooting from the field.

The big question coming into this game was which team would be better equipped to bounce back from the disappointment of not making it to the gold medal game. Fabricio Oberto opened the scoring for Argentina by beating Team USA downcourt for a transition layup, a flashback to the poor defense that plagued Team USA in the semifinals loss to Greece. Wade soon countered with a drive to the hoop but it was the Luis Scola show in the early going, as he scored 12 of Argentina's first 21 points. Argentina took a 12-4 lead before Team USA rallied and cut the deficit to 27-21 by the end of the quarter.

In the first half, Team USA had the same problems defending the pick and roll play that they had against Greece and ESPN2's Fran Fraschilla made a very perceptive comment about this. He mentioned that in the press conference after the loss to Greece, Coach Krzyzewski and the Team USA players referred to the Greek players by their jersey numbers, not by their names. Fraschilla concluded, "I really felt that all through the tournament we didn't respect the non-NBA players in this tournament." Fraschilla and his broadcasting partner Jim Durham added that to defend the pick and roll successfully it is vital to know the opponents' tendencies--who can shoot, who likes to drive (and which way they like to drive) and so forth. The fact that Team USA cannot even identify the Greeks by name underscores the point that I (and others) have made repeatedly: it is not possible to put together a FIBA championship team in three weeks. Can you imagine a team trying to win an NBA championship without even knowing the opposing teams' players by name let or being thoroughly familiar with each of their strengths and weaknesses?

Argentina stretched their second quarter lead to 43-34 after a Walter Hermann three pointer but Oberto went to the bench at the 4:00 mark after picking up his third foul. Argentina only made one field goal during the rest of the second quarter as Team USA closed the half on a 16-6 run. Anthony had a mini mental breakdown near the end of the period. First he fouled Ginobili while he was shooting a three pointer and then he was slapped with a technical foul for screaming at the officials when he grabbed a rebound and felt that he had been fouled. That could have been a big play, because under FIBA rules technical fouls count as personal fouls and five fouls result in disqualification. The technical was Anthony's third foul of the game but he redeemed himself a little bit by hitting a three pointer right before the halftime buzzer to give Team USA their first lead of the game (50-49).

Wade scored on a fastbreak layup to start the third quarter but it would be several more minutes before either team would make another field goal. Instead, the momentum of the game swung in Team USA's favor as Argentina committed five fouls in the first 3:21 of the quarter. Team USA converted only 3 of the resulting 8 free throws but Scola went to the bench with his fourth foul and Team USA was in the bonus for the rest of the period. Ginobili received his third foul just before the end of the first half and he sat out the entire third quarter. Nocioni was tagged with his third foul at the 4:59 mark of the third period and Oberto got his fourth foul 1:26 later, meaning that Argentina's starting frontcourt and their best player (Ginobili) all had at least three fouls with more than 13 minutes left in the game. This is worth mentioning because it not only limited those players' minutes but it also curbed their aggressiveness while they were on the court. Argentina was called for 29 fouls in the game, compared to 17 for Team USA, but Anthony did receive his fourth foul in the third period and Brand eventually fouled out. A Nocioni three pointer cut Team USA's lead to 69-62 at the end of the period.

Team USA went on a 10-4 run to open the fourth quarter and led by at least nine the rest of the way, outscoring Argentina 27-19 in the final stanza. Wade's 18 came from all angles--dunks, jumpers (including two three pointers), free throws and slashing drives. James concluded the scoring with an emphatic dunk, making a free throw to complete the three point play.

Anyone who believes that Team USA lost to Greece because of poor shooting should carefully compare the boxscores of that game with the Argentina game. Team USA shot 33-66 (.500) from the field versus Greece and a virtually identical 37-72 (.514) from the field versus Argentina; they shot 20-34 (.588) on free throws versus Greece and an even worse 15-30 (.500) versus Argentina. Yes, the three point shooting was a little better versus Argentina (7-18; .389) than versus Greece (9-28; .321) but the real difference was at the defensive end: Team USA held Argentina to 34-75 field goal shooting (.453), including 4-21 (.190) from three point range, while Greece shot a blistering 35-56 (.625), including 8-18 (.444) from three point range. Team USA scored 95 points versus Greece and 96 points versus Argentina. Forgive me for belaboring the point, but scoring is not Team USA's problem, nor is shooting; defending against the pick and roll and guarding three point shooters are the two main things that hurt Team USA against elite FIBA teams. Team USA's poor free throw shooting was an aberration--is anyone seriously considering cutting James because he shot 1-4 versus Greece or Anthony because he shot 6-10 and then 1-6 versus Argentina? I don't think that selecting the team based on the NBA's free throw percentage leaders is a recipe for victory. If anything, those guys were trying too hard and missing more often than usual because they were pressing to make up for the defensive lapses that got them behind in the first place.

This was a good effort against a tough Argentina team that has been together for several years and has players who have both NBA and FIBA experience. Wade was in the starting lineup for the first time for Team USA and he played 35 of a possible 40 minutes. It is easy to forget that Coach Krzyzewski and his staff not only had to take a crash course on the other teams in three weeks but that they also had to learn the strengths and weaknesses of the players on their own roster and which combinations of players worked best together. When Fraschilla mentioned this, Durham wryly noted that Wade was the Finals MVP and that it might not be a bad idea to start the five best players. I agree with that and would take it a step further, as I wrote after Team USA's nine point win over Italy: "...the FIBA World Championships are not the NBA All-Star Game; the most important thing is winning the game, not making sure that everyone gets a chance to play. If someone is not productive in a given game or does not match up well with the players on the court then he should sit on the bench." That is why I was so disappointed to read Gilbert Arenas' comments in the Washington Post on August 30. It had been originally reported that he was left off of the final 12 man roster due to injury but he believes that he was going to be cut regardless and cannot understand why he was not given the freedom to do whatever he wants to do on the court. Among other things, Arenas said "You've got LeBron being LeBron. You've got Carmelo being Carmelo. You've got D-Wade being D-Wade. Why can't I be me? Why do I have to transform? I did that and now you are going to cut me?" Arenas then vowed to try to score 50 points in each of his games next year versus the Phoenix Suns and Portland Trail Blazers because he felt that he was slighted by their head coaches--Mike D'Antoni and Nate McMillan respectively--who are assistants on Krzyzewski's staff. That is precisely the attitude that Team USA does not need. James and Wade are clearly better all around players than Arenas and Anthony is certainly at least as good of a scorer. Chris Paul set a Team USA record for assists in FIBA World Championship play and James also can handle the ball, so what makes Arenas think that he is entitled to guaranteed minutes on this team?

The roster moves/playing time decisions that I did not understand with Team USA are (1) Wade not starting until the last game when the team played markedly better with him on the court; (2) Bruce Bowen being cut when the team desperately needs good perimeter defenders; (3) Brad Miller being on the team because he is supposedly the prototypical FIBA big man, but rarely getting any playing time--if he is that valuable, work him into the rotation, otherwise cut him loose in favor of Bowen or somebody who can help Team USA's defense. It will be interesting to see what the roster looks like next summer when Team USA must have a strong showing in the Tournament of the Americas in order to qualify for the 2008 Olympics. Assuming that Kobe Bryant and Chauncey Billups are available, who will be cut from this year's roster? What if Amare Stoudemire is healthy, too? Arenas has probably talked himself off of the team, but what about Bowen's status?

Coach Larry Brown was blasted when his 2004 version of Team USA won the bronze medal in the Olympics but the new and improved Team USA did no better than equal that finish in the FIBA World Championships, although they did avenge Team USA's loss to Argentina in 2004. While both teams had similar preparation time, the difference is that Brown's team was a one and done outfit, while Krzyzewski and his staff will have the same pool of 24 players to choose from until 2008. I believe that they will use the extra preparation time wisely and that Team USA will win the gold medal in the 2008 Olympics--but if they are still identifying opposing players by jersey number and not by name in the Tournament of the Americas, I reserve the right to change my prediction.

posted by David Friedman @ 11:55 PM

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Friday, September 01, 2006

Spain Defeats Argentina for the Tenth Straight Time, 75-74

Spain will play Greece in the gold medal game of the FIBA World Championships after beating Argentina 75-74 in a hard fought and exciting semifinals matchup. Pau Gasol led Spain with 19 points and 11 rebounds but he injured his left foot late in the fourth quarter and had to be helped off of the court after the game while his teammates celebrated the victory. Jorge Garbajosa also had 19 points. Manu Ginobili had a game-high 21 points for Argentina but shot only 6-21 from the field, while Andres Nocioni contributed 15 points and played his usual rugged, hard nosed game.

Argentina got off to a great start, taking a 13-2 first quarter lead. Spain did not make a field goal until Gasol's three point play at the 4:09 mark. That made the score 14-7 Argentina. Nocioni had nine first quarter points and Argentina led 21-15 going into the second quarter.

Spain outscored Argentina 25-17 in the second quarter, largely by going to the hoop, drawing fouls and making free throws. Gasol had two more three point plays in the quarter and the second of them gave Spain a 32-23 advantage. Spain clung to a 40-38 lead at halftime.

Luis Scola's putback tied the score in the opening moments of the third quarter and the score stayed close throughout the period, with Spain taking a 60-56 lead into the final quarter. A quick 5-0 burst to open the fourth quarter put Spain ahead 65-56 and Argentina did not score until the 7:25 mark, when a Pepe Sanchez three pointer put Argentina within six points, 65-59. Spain kept a small lead for most of the quarter. Gasol made a nice baseline spin move and was fouled with 1:36 remaining. He injured his left foot on the play but sank two free throws to put Spain up by six before he limped to the bench. A Sanchez three pointer, a Ginobili drive and two Scola free throws enabled Argentina to tie the game at 74. Spain had possession with less than 24 seconds remaining and Argentina made an interesting strategic decision, electing to intentionally foul, possibly conceding two points but ensuring that they would have the last possession and a chance to win. Jose Calderon made only one of the two free throws and it looked like Argentina's plan might pay off, but Nocioni missed a corner jump shot and Spain tracked down the loose ball as time expired.

As ESPN2's Fran Fraschilla noted on several occasions, players from both countries are very familiar with each other, not only from FIBA competitions but also from playing in various European leagues. This led to a very physical game. Neither team shot particularly well for the game--.440 from the field for Spain, .358 from the field for Argentina--and it often seemed like the defensive team knew exactly what the offensive team was trying to do. The look and feel of this game was a lot different than what you see when watching Team USA play. Spain and Argentina utilize a lot more ball and player movement; Team USA's players and coaching staff should study this tape and apply the lessons learned to future FIBA competitions.

Spain has more "name" talent than Greece but Greece won the European championship and Gasol's status for Sunday's game is uncertain. The gold medal game should be very interesting indeed.

As for the bronze medal game between Team USA and Argentina, both teams had gold medal aspirations, so they are equally disappointed at how things have turned out. Whichever team can get past that mental hurdle and convince itself that fighting for the bronze medal is a worthy goal will have the edge in tomorrow's game. Team USA is unquestionably talented enough to beat any of these teams but it requires a very sound offensive and defensive approach to beat the elite FIBA teams. All of the things that Greece did to defeat Team USA--not turn the ball over, run screen and scroll plays, make three pointers--Argentina is also capable of doing, so this game will not be a walk in the park for Team USA. The much maligned 2004 U.S. Olympic team overcame its disappointment at not winning the gold medal and beat Lithuania in a spirited bronze medal game.

posted by David Friedman @ 4:42 PM

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Greece Shreds Team USA's Defense, Wins 101-95

Greece 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

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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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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Team USA Rolls Into Quarterfinals With a 113-73 Win Over Australia

Team USA defeated Australia 113-73 in the second round of the FIBA World Championships and will face Dirk Nowitzki and Germany in the quarterfinals. Although Team USA won easily and was never threatened after the midway portion of the second quarter, the Americans once again got off to a very slow start. Andrew Bogut of the Milwaukee Bucks scored nine points in the first five minutes of the first quarter as Australia took a 15-14 lead after his three pointer at the 5:08 mark. The momentum of the game shifted when Dwyane Wade checked in to the contest with 4:45 remaining in the first period. The 2006 NBA Finals MVP has willingly accepted the sixth man role on Team USA--indeed, he volunteered for it--but with the starters consistently playing lackadaisically early in the game it might be time to move him into the starting lineup. Then again, the end result was a 40 point blowout, so Coach Krzyzewski may see no reason to change things at this point.

After Wade entered the game, Carmelo Anthony split a pair of free throws to tie the score at 15. Australia briefly recaptured the lead when a Brad Newley three pointer made the score 18-17 but Wade answered with four quick points and Team USA never trailed again. Each team scored on a dunk before Wade converted a layup and made a gorgeous pass to Elton Brand that resulted in a dunk and a 27-23 U.S. lead at the end of the quarter. In less than five minutes of on court time, Wade scored six points and the U.S. went from down one to up four.

Australia completely ran out of gas in the second quarter, failing to make a shot from the field until the 2:50 mark. By that time, Team USA led 46-26. Bogut picked up his third foul in the period (five fouls lead to disqualification in FIBA play), as did Australia's other top player, C.J. Bruton. The U.S. outscored Australia 32-6 in the second quarter and led 59-29 at halftime. Some key statistics illustrate Team USA's first half dominance: they shot 7-9 from three point range and committed only two turnovers while forcing 11 turnovers. Australia relies heavily on three point shooting but shot only 4-13 from long range, with all of the makes coming in the first six minutes of the first period.

Australia never made a serious run in the second half, enabling Krzyzewski to once again provide some minutes for guys like Chris Bosh and Brad Miller. Anthony led Team USA with 20 points, Johnson finished with 18 and Wade had 15. Bosh contributed 12 points, while LeBron James managed only five, although he did make several excellent passes. Bogut paced Australia with 20 points but after he scored nine points in the first five minutes of the game he did not score again until the opening moments of the second half, by which time Australia trailed by 30.

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.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:33 AM

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