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Monday, August 18, 2008

Team USA Cruises Past Germany, 106-57

Team USA hit Germany with a 20-3 run to start the game and never looked back en route to a 106-57 win to finish preliminary round play with a 5-0 record. Team USA will face Australia on Wednesday in a quarterfinal matchup; Germany had already failed to qualify for a medal round berth prior to this loss. Each Team USA player made at least one field goal as the easy victory allowed Coach Mike Krzyzewski to distribute the playing time very evenly: everyone played between nine and 22 minutes. Dwight Howard led Team USA in scoring (22 points) and rebounding (10), powering his way to 9-10 field goal shooting and he would have had even better numbers were it not for his 4-9 free throw shooting. LeBron James shot 4-5 from three point range and finished with 18 points and three rebounds. He was officially credited with no assists and no turnovers but, quite frankly, neither of those numbers are accurate: James should have received an assist on the very first score of the game and he committed at least two turnovers in the early going. FIBA scorekeeping--particularly regarding assists, turnovers and steals--is highly questionable. Kobe Bryant (13 points), Dwyane Wade (10 points) and Chris Paul (10 points) were Team USA's other double figure scorers. Carmelo Anthony, Team USA's leading scorer in the 2006 FIBA World Championship and last summer's FIBA Americas tournament, scored four points on 2-7 field goal shooting.

Dirk Nowitzki led Germany with 14 points and eight rebounds in what was most likely his final FIBA performance. Chris Kaman had a quiet six points and three rebounds, shooting 3-9 from the field. Germany has four seven footers plus another player who is 6-11 but Team USA scored at will in the paint and dominated the rebounding battle 53-38. The Germans shot .387 from three point range in their first four games but Team USA held them to 7-30 (.233) three point shooting and 22-73 (.301) field goal shooting overall. As usual, Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd spearheaded Team USA's defensive pressure in the early going: Germany's starting guards Demond Greene and Stefann Hamanb combined to shoot 2-12 from the field and committed three turnovers while passing for three assists.

In what almost looked like a set play on the opening tip, Howard directed the ball to James who immediately passed ahead to a streaking Anthony for a layup. A feed that leads to an uncontested shot should be credited as an assist but for some reason James did not receive one. The Germans missed their first four field goal attempts as Team USA took an 8-0 lead. Oven Schultze made a three pointer over Anthony but Team USA answered with 13 straight points, effectively ending the game at the 3:32 mark of the first quarter; a 17 point lead that early is not insurmountable in theory but it was obvious that Germany simply could not keep up with Team USA at either end of the court.

When Team USA did not score in transition they made a concerted effort to get the ball to Howard deep in the paint. Bryant fed Howard three times, resulting in one dunk and two trips to the free throw line for Howard. Two Kidd passes--a post feed and a dish on a fast break--resulted in two more Howard field goals as he scored eight of Team USA's first 20 points. These kinds of plays are examples of situations that are not captured precisely by statistics: Bryant and Kidd each received one assist during the 20-3 run but they ran the offense and made the decisions about who would get the ball at what time. This is not even an instance of poor stat keeping--such as James officially not having an assist or a turnover--but rather just a case in which you had to actually watch the game to understand what took place, namely that Team USA applied defensive pressure to score in the open court but when they had the ball in the half court set Bryant and Kidd made sure to exploit Howard's advantage in the post. Previous editions of Team USA did not have good defensive guards nor did their guards understand how to run an offense the way that Kidd and Bryant do. Bryant was the last of Team USA's starters to go to the bench and after he sat out Team USA outscored Germany just 11-9 to finish the first quarter with a 31-12 lead.

Team USA opened the second quarter with an 8-0 run keyed by good defensive pressure resulting in three pointers by Deron Williams and Chris Paul and a fastbreak layup by Williams. Team USA's total domination meant that some of the bench players could get into the game earlier than usual: Michael Redd made his first appearance with Team USA up 49-19 late in the second quarter; he ended up with two points on 1-9 shooting. Team USA led 53-29 at halftime and they picked right up where they left off by making a 9-0 run at the start of the third quarter.

Bryant, Anthony and Kidd left the game early in the quarter and did not return the rest of the way, while James remained in the game just a couple minutes longer before taking a seat for the night. Wade played the bulk of the third quarter, sat out briefly at the beginning of the fourth quarter and then got a little fourth quarter run before going back to the bench. There is a limit to how much one can read into on court/off court numbers in a blowout like this: Team USA outscored Germany 45-12 when Anthony was on the court despite Anthony's poor shooting; Anthony did grab six rebounds, all on the defensive boards. Team USA outscored Germany 53-29 when James was on the court, 47-27 when Bryant was on the court, 43-27 when Kidd was on the court and 51-21 when Wade was on the court; Wade's numbers were padded by an 11-2 run in fourth quarter garbage time.

Australia proved to be Team USA's toughest opponent during the pre-Olympic exhibition tour, getting as close as four points in the second half and only losing 87-76 even though Andrew Bogut did not play. Australia is a physical team and they played mind games with Team USA by referring to Team USA players by number instead of by name when they called out defensive assignments or switches. Nevertheless, if Team USA continues to play excellent pressure defense and shut down the three point shooters then they will beat Australia by at least 15 or 20 points, even if the game is close for the first quarter or two. The Team USA-Australia winner will face either Argentina or Greece for a chance to play in the gold medal game, most likely against Spain.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:51 PM

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