Team USA Opens Exhibition Tour With 120-65 Win Over CanadaTeam USA began its five game pre-Olympic exhibition tour with a 120-65 win over Canada in the State Farm USA Basketball Challenge at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Michael Redd led Team USA with 20 points each. Anthony added six rebounds and three assists, while Wade had three rebounds, two assists and three steals and Redd shot 6-8 from the field, with all of his attempts coming from three point range. Kobe Bryant contributed 15 points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals while filling the defensive stopper role that he has played with perfection since joining the squad last summer for the FIBA Americas tournament. Dwight Howard scored six points on 3-3 field goal shooting and grabbed a game-high seven rebounds as Team USA enjoyed a 38-24 rebounding advantage. Jason Kidd had a stat line that belied his real value to the team: five rebounds, zero assists and zero points (he did not attempt a field goal or free throw and was the only Team USA player who did not score). What those numbers don't show are how Kidd defended tenaciously, continually pushed the ball up the court and threw several great passes that resulted in scores but were not assists--not to mention the leadership that he provides for this team on a daily basis in practice. Team USA often used Chris Paul and Deron Williams at the same time, with Bryant sliding over to small forward; Paul had 11 points and a game-high eight assists (one more than Canada's entire team), while Williams added 14 points and five assists.
LeBron James did not play due to a sprained ankle. Wade started in his place and thus there were about 20-25 extra minutes of playing time to distribute, so it will be interesting to see whose minutes get cut once James returns; Wade will be the sixth man but he will probably play about the same number of minutes that he did in this game (18). Last month, in the comments section of my Analyzing Team USA's 12 Man Roster post, I predicted that in the Olympics Howard will average about 20 mpg, with Chris Bosh and Boozer each averaging about 10 mpg. Howard played 19 minutes against Canada, Bosh played 14 and Boozer made an eight minute cameo appearance. Certain matchups, foul trouble and/or injuries could of course change things in a given game but at the end of the Olympics I am confident that their minutes will indeed average out to right around 20-10-10.
ESPN broadcast this game, with Rick Kamla doing the play by play and Fran Fraschilla providing color commentary. Just before tipoff, Fraschilla listed three keys for Team USA:
(1) Build chemistry
(2) Establish pressure defense
(3) Make outside shots
These teams played almost a year ago in the FIBA Americas tournament, with Team USA improving to 3-0 after a 113-63 win that was remarkably similar to this contest in several respects: last year Team USA led 28-21 after the first quarter, 65-34 at halftime and 95-49 after the third quarter, while Team USA enjoyed 30-24, 61-38 and 95-56 leads respectively after the first three quarters this time around. Last year, Anthony led Team USA with 25 points, Redd scored 19 points and Bryant had 15 points.
Canada may be the weakest squad that Team USA faces this year but Canada was game ready simply by virtue of the fact that they had just played in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Athens (Canada lost to Croatia 83-62 and will not participate in the Beijing Olympics). It is interesting to see to what extent preparation can be an equalizing factor even for an overmatched team like Canada (yet another reason it is important for Team USA to not only insist on a three year commitment by players but also to play these kinds of exhibition games prior to the main event): Team USA looked sloppy in the first quarter, committing numerous turnovers and allowing Canada to shoot 5-8 from three point range. While people often talk about how important it is for Team USA to make three point shots, I have consistently maintained that it is even more important for Team USA to do a good job defending against the three point shot: most FIBA teams rely heavily on three pointers and if you take that weapon away from them their offenses are much less effective. The FIBA three point shot is only 20'6" (compared to 23'9" around the arc in the NBA and 22' in the corners) and the reality is that everyone on Team USA can make that shot fairly easily except for Howard, Boozer and possibly Bosh, three players who should not be shooting from that far out anyway; you don't have to be an NBA three point specialist to make 20 foot jump shots.
Team USA only led 30-24 after the first 10 minutes and neither team had scored a fast break point; the significance of that statistic is that Team USA will probably never execute a half court FIBA offense as well as well as FIBA teams that have played together for years so it is vitally important for Team USA to force turnovers and score in transition. Team USA's defensive intensity and focus picked up noticeably in the second quarter. Bryant forced a turnover that led to a fast break opportunity for Redd, who was fouled and split a pair of free throws. Normally, teams attack a defensive weak link, not a defensive strong link, but for some inexplicable reason Carl English went one on one versus Bryant on the next two possessions, missing shots both times. Bryant drove to the hoop and dished to Boozer, who was fouled and made two free throws. Then Canada hung English out to dry, having him bring the ball up the court against Bryant with no help; naturally, Bryant ripped English cleanly and sailed in for a fast break dunk and a 35-25 lead. Fraschilla mentioned several times that in FIBA--unlike the NBA--there are no rules against hand checking and consequently the perimeter play can be very physical. Bryant noticeably takes advantage of that difference, playing a much more physical and aggressive brand of defense in FIBA competition than he would be allowed to in the NBA; Kidd and Wade also do this and hopefully all Team USA perimeter defenders will adjust to this as well.
Late in the second quarter after Deron Williams drove to the hoop, looked to pass and drew a foul, Fraschilla observed, "If there's anything going on right now it's almost too much unselfishness by Team USA. A lot of the turnovers in the first half are caused by guys who are supposed to be big-time scorers trying to make the unselfish play."Anthony and Wade led Team USA with 12 points each in the first half, shooting 5-9 and 4-4 from the field respectively, while Bryant had nine points on 4-5 field goal shooting.
Neither team did much posting up and even though Canada is not a strong FIBA team this is typical of what to expect in FIBA play and illustrates the value of having a roster full of versatile perimeter players as opposed to one overstocked with superfluous post players. Keep in mind that Anthony is a great power forward in FIBA and that James is essentially the same size as Boozer and Boozer's Utah predecessor Karl Malone, so there is no reason that James cannot play power forward if necessary.
The second half was essentially "extensive gar-bage time," as Marv Albert would put it; Canada never seriously threatened. As the final horn sounded, Fraschilla said of Team USA's performance, "Impressive team chemistry. The defense was solid, the outside shooting was pretty solid. There is still some work to be done. They'll get better and better. It will be an interesting Olympics and it won't be easy."
Team USA Coach Mike Krzyzewski was pleased with his squad's pick and roll defense, an area that has been Team USA's fatal weakness in recent FIBA events. After the game, he said, "Two years ago (in the FIBA World Championship, where Team USA settled for the bronze medal) we didn’t X and O, we didn’t have time in building our infrastructure and all that, we weren’t as good X and O wise as we are now. We’ve taken the input from these guys of how they wanted to defend it, we studied it, we have a good plan. We have I think a very good plan against it and then you have to execute the plan. A lot of it is making sure that the pick and roll is played by five guys and not two."
Kidd added, "Defensively we played well, we just have to work on not giving up so many 3-point shots, and then just taking care of the ball and getting good looks." Although Team USA held Canada to .333 field goal shooting, Canada shot 9-23 from three point range (.391) and they had too many open looks from deep, particularly in the first quarter. Team USA shot 11-22 from three point range but many of those treys came when they already had a huge lead and it is not hard to do the math and calculate that if they had made no three point shots they would have still won by 22 points. The number one key for Team USA is to play good pressure defense: that will shut down the three point shooting of opposing teams while also making it difficult for teams to establish a postup game.
Just like I did during my coverage of last year's FIBA Americas tournament, I tracked the on court/off court numbers of several Team USA players. Team USA outscored Canada 67-40 when Bryant was on the court and 53-25 when he was off the court. Carmelo Anthony played the vast majority of his minutes alongside Bryant, so his numbers were very similar (69-43 and 51-22 respectively). The blowout gave Coach Krzyzewski the opportunity to play Kidd for just 16 minutes; Team USA outscored Canada 47-25 when he was on the court and 73-40 when he was off the court. Team USA outscored Canada 52-29 when Dwyane Wade was on the court and 68-36 when he was off the court. Of course, these numbers are skewed a bit by the production of the reserve players when the game was well in hand, so it is perhaps more significant to note that Team USA outscored Canada by 15 (41-26) in the first half when Bryant was on the court, by 14 (41-27) when Anthony was on the court, by 13 when Wade was on the court (30-17) and by 12 (25-13) when Kidd was on the court.
posted by David Friedman @ 4:14 AM