Team USA Improves to 2-0 With 97-76 Win Over AngolaTeam USA played sloppily at times but defeated an overmatched Angola 97-76 to improve to 2-0 in preliminary round play. Dwyane Wade again led Team USA in scoring with 19 points, shooting 6-8 from the field. Dwight Howard scored 14 points on 6-6 shooting and LeBron James put up another well rounded stat line: 12 points on 5-7 shooting, a team-high five assists, two rebounds, three steals and one blocked shot, a spectacular spike worthy of Karch Kiraly. Carmelo Anthony added 12 points and a team-high six rebounds, though his totals were boosted significantly by extended minutes in garbage time when the other starters were no longer in the game. Kobe Bryant shot 0-8 from three point range--which is highly unusual considering that the 20-6 FIBA three point shot is a midrange jumper for Bryant during the NBA season--and he finished with eight points, four rebounds and two steals. Carlos Morais scored a game-high 24 points for Angola, doing damage in the paint and from behind the arc (3-8 three point shooting), but he was also charged with 10 of Angola's 25 turnovers. Those miscues fueled Team USA's transition game, which proved to be very important because Team USA shot just 5-21 from three point range. Obviously, that is not good but I still maintain that people are making too big of an issue out of Team USA's three point shooting percentage. The important number is Team USA's defensive three point field goal percentage, which in this case was .290 (9-31). If Team USA continues to play that kind of defense then they will win the gold medal whether or not their players make the midrange jumpers that FIBA designates as three pointers. Case in point: designated three point shooter Michael Redd scored two points on 1-4 shooting (0-2 from three point range) and Team USA won easily.
Mike Breen and Doug Collins handled the broadcasting duties, this time for USA Network, which showed the game live. Craig Sager, on loan from TNT, provided the sideline coverage and he offered this interesting tidbit shortly after the start of the game: Angola Coach Alberto Carvalho told his team before the game that their goal was to lose by fewer than 40 points. That is not exactly shades of Knute Rockne but that lets you know two things--Angola's coach is a very realistic man and the statistics from this game are of limited value in assessing how Team USA will perform against the better teams. Bryant opened the game by missing a three pointer and Angola converted the rebound into a fast break dunk to take a quick 2-0 lead.
Bryant's three point bricklaying (he has shot 1-15 from long distance in the first two games) is sure to be much discussed. I think that Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo should have replaced Bryant on the roster with Mike Miller so that the squad would have enough pure shooters. NOT--I just wanted to see if you are paying attention! Bryant shot 17-37 (.459) from three point range last summer when Team USA went 10-0 en route to winning the gold medal in the FIBA Americas tournament and he shot 7-19 (.368) from three point range when Team USA went 5-0 during their pre-Olympic exhibition tour--that adds up to 24-56 (.429) three point shooting during his 15 FIBA games prior to the Olympics. Bryant shot .361 from the 23-9 NBA three point distance last season and is a .340 career NBA three point shooter. In other words, at some point he is going to have a 6-8 game from the three point line and by the end of the Olympics his three point shooting percentage will be around its normal level.
Collins has a slightly different take: "Kobe is still adjusting right now to being a catch and shoot player. In L.A. he is a creator. He is a guy who makes plays for his teammates or does a lot off the dribble. In international play he is getting a lot of catch and shoots and right now he is just not comfortable." I respect Collins' expertise--he and Hubie Brown are the two best on air NBA analysts--and his experience as an Olympian, an NBA All-Star and an NBA head coach but I think that this is just an excuse for Bryant because, as noted above, he shot well from three point range in his previous 15 FIBA games. All that has happened is that in two games Bryant has missed shots that he normally makes; he is shooting very well from inside the arc and the rest of his game is on point, so this is a non-issue, even though some people will surely make a big deal out of it. Bryant's most important role on this team is defensive stopper and that job will be critically important against the better FIBA teams, one of which--Greece--Team USA will face in their next game on Thursday. Team USA must make Greece pay for the 101-95 loss the Greeks dealt them in the semifinals of the 2006 FIBA World Championship and that is the primary reason that Bryant was added to the roster the next year: he may call himself "Black Mamba" or the "Doberman" but his task versus Greece is to be "the bill collector."
Team USA did not take the lead versus Angola until Howard rebounded a missed Bryant three pointer and dunked the ball to make the score 8-7. Around this time, Collins pointed out that in 1992 the score was tied 7-7 before the Dream Team hit Angola with a 46-1 run. Team USA did not take command with quite so much authority this time but they led 29-18 after the first quarter. Wade provided a nice boost off of the bench, scoring six points as Team USA closed the quarter with a 15-7 run after he entered the game. Collins cautioned that people should not read too much into the fact that Team USA did not immediately blow out Angola: "You can't go for the knockout punch even against Angola. The United States is the deepest team in the field--12 guys wear down the opposition over 40 minutes. That's the game plan." This is apparent by the rotation that Coach Mike Krzyzewski used and the way that the minutes were distributed: no one on Team USA played more than 22 minutes and everyone--even Carlos Boozer and Tayshaun Prince, players who received minimal run previously--played at least 11 minutes. So people can look at the three point shooting or certain individual player statistics but nothing from this game's boxscore tells you anything about what will happen in the game with Greece. As Collins put it, "As the games get tighter you find out who the coach trusts."
As the second quarter began, Sager relayed a funny story about the Dream Team's victory over Angola, a contest in which Charles Barkley infamously elbowed an Angolan player after Barkley felt that he had been fouled but nothing was called. Sager spoke with current Angolan assistant coach Anibal Moreira, who played for Angola in 1992, and Moreira told Sager, "We thought Barkley was a bit deranged. It was not a sane reaction from a person playing basketball." Sager added that Barkley posed for a picture with the Angolan player after the game and that they became friends.
Team USA pushed the lead to 37-21 but Angola cut the margin to 39-32 and Collins said, "Very, very sloppy play by the United States. Right now they are playing down to their competition." During that sequence, Carlos Boozer missed two point blank layups that he should have dunked, including one right after Bryant fed him a gorgeous no look, behind the back pass. Team USA also had some defensive breakdowns and even Bryant was guilty in this regard, committing the cardinal sin of fouling a three point shooter. However, Team USA did not panic and they promptly went on a 12-0 run that essentially put the game away. James had one assist and scored seven points during that stretch, including a three point play on a feed from Bryant. "Incredibly unselfish play by Kobe," Collins said. "He had a wide open layup but dropped it off at the last second." Team USA led 55-37 at halftime. Howard (12 points on 5-5 shooting), James (11 points on 5-5 shooting) and Anthony (eight points on 3-3 shooting) combined to score 31 points on 13-13 field goal shooting.
Bryant did not make a field goal or score a point in the first half but he produced eight of Team USA's first 10 points in the third quarter as the starters maintained a comfortable lead. By the middle of the quarter, all of the starters were on the bench except for James, who stayed in the game a few minutes longer; when he sat down for good Team USA led 73-48 and the margin was 81-53 by the end of the quarter.
Wade played briefly at the start of the fourth quarter before calling it a night and it looked as though none of the starters would play at all in the final stanza but Krzyzewski put Anthony back in with Team USA leading 87-58. Anthony played the rest of the way. That is an unusual move but perhaps Krzyzewski wanted Anthony to get some extra work and/or boost his confidence by padding his numbers. Angola actually outscored Team USA 18-10 in the garbage time fourth quarter minutes when Anthony played despite the fact that Anthony added to his scoring and rebounding totals. For the game, Angola outscored Team USA 46-42 when Anthony was on the court. The reason that Team USA gets outscored more frequently with Anthony on the court than with the other players who I track (Bryant, James, Kidd and Wade) is Anthony's poor defense and that poor defense is a much more significant concern than the ghosts (three point shooting, rebounding) that some people continue to emphasize. If Team USA loses it will be because of poor defense. Team USA outscored Angola 51-25 when Wade was on the court, 53-35 when James was on the court, 45-35 when Bryant was on the court and 32-28 when Kidd was on the court. Team USA broke the game open in the second quarter with James, Wade, Bryant, Chris Bosh (eight points, two rebounds in 14 minutes) and Chris Paul (six points, four rebounds, three assists in 21 minutes) in the game. Paul played excellent pressure defense during that stretch.
Team USA's 101-70 victory over China was an exciting moment in basketball history more than a competitive game and this contest versus Angola was a glorified scrimmage. Four out of six teams from group play advance to the medal round, so Team USA has all but sewn up a berth at this point but the rest of the way is serious business. The game on Thursday against Greece will be a measuring stick for how much Team USA has improved since 2006 and then after that there will be a tough game against 2006 FIBA World Champion Spain, another important litmus test for Team USA. From this point forward it is of paramount importance that Team USA play excellent defense, starting on the perimeter with Bryant, Kidd, young point guards Paul and Deron Williams, plus James and Wade. Howard and Bosh must continue to hold down the fort in the paint and Anthony must at least demonstrate some effort and focus on defense. Good pressure defense will disrupt the opposition's offense while creating transition scoring opportunities for Team USA and that is the recipe for winning the gold medal. If Team USA can make some three pointers along the way that will be nice gravy but the heart of the meal--the meat and potatoes--is defense.
posted by David Friedman @ 2:59 PM