Team USA Trails Early, Rallies to Rout SpainTeam USA concluded their five game pre-Olympic exhibition tour with a perfect record after registering a 100-78 win over Spain, widely considered to be Team USA's toughest potential London opponent. Carmelo Anthony led Team USA with a game-high 27 points, shooting 10-15 from the field and 5-8 from three point range. LeBron James started slowly but finished with 25 points on 10-15 field goal shooting plus a team-high seven assists. Kevin Durant was Team USA's only other double figure scorer, contributing 13 points and eight rebounds. Kobe Bryant did not aggressively look for his shot, scoring six points on 2-3 field goal shooting, but he finished second on Team USA with four assists--he also had a few "hockey assists," making the pass that led to the assist--and he again had an impact defensively. Kevin Love grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds in just 13 minutes, though he padded that total a bit in garbage time with the outcome of the contest well in hand. The rebound battle was close in the first half but Team USA finished with a 37-26 advantage. Pau Gasol led Spain in both scoring (19 points on 6-9 field goal shooting) and rebounds (five). Serge Ibaka scored 16 points--all in the first half and most in the first quarter--while Juan Carlos Navarro added 11 points but also committed a game-high six turnovers. All-Star center Marc Gasol did not play for Spain due to a shoulder injury that is not expected to keep him out of action during the Olympics.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski went with a starting lineup of Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Tyson Chandler. That quintet got off to a slow start--or Spain played very well, depending upon your perspective--and fell behind 10-3 as Gasol and Navarro each drained three pointers. Chandler picked up two quick fouls (he eventually fouled out after playing just eight total minutes) and Anthony checked in for him at the 5:40 mark. Anthony started shooting--and scoring--as soon as he took off his warmups but Spain still pushed the lead to 22-13 before Team USA's defense settled in and stopped giving up wide open shots. Ibaka scored 12 first quarter points on 6-6 field goal shooting, with most of his attempts coming from point blank range. It is well documented that Chandler is the only true center on Team USA's roster, so some of the bigger FIBA teams--like Spain--should have some success attacking Team USA inside the paint; Team USA must counter this by pressuring the ball very aggressively on the perimeter and by making sure that their weak side rotations are quick and precise (Anthony provides points at one end of the court when he shoots like he did against Spain but he also consistently gives up points at the other end of the court). Spain led 23-21 at the end of the first quarter.
Chandler committed his third foul early in the second quarter and sat out the rest of the half but Team USA finally started to make their move with him on the bench; the lineup of James, Durant, Anthony, Bryant and Paul proved to be too quick for Spain. Back to back three pointers by Anthony and James put Team USA up 28-26 and, although Spain remained in contact for the most part until the fourth quarter, Spain never led the rest of the way. Team USA led 48-40 at halftime. Anthony poured in 23 first half points.
Anthony started the third quarter instead of Chandler and Team USA's "small" lineup once again gave Spain a lot of trouble; Durant scored 10 points in less than four minutes as Team USA pushed the margin to 14, 60-46. Bryant went to the bench at the 6:17 mark and the other starters soon joined him. Team USA's reserve players extended the lead to 69-48 but then sloppy play at both ends of the court by Team USA enabled Spain to whittle that advantage to 74-59 entering the final period.
The Spanish team did not seem to overly exert themselves trying to come back in the fourth quarter--ESPN commentator Fran Fraschilla has repeatedly mentioned that many FIBA coaches believe that their teams can beat Team USA once but not twice and thus are not inclined to go all out for 40 minutes during exhibition games--and Team USA outscored Spain 26-18 in the final stanza as Anthony Davis, James Harden and Kevin Love received garbage time minutes.
It is important to remember that Team USA blew Spain out in a 2008 exhibition game only to face a real dogfight in the gold medal game at the Olympics. Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka can do damage inside against Team USA, not only scoring points but also potentially getting Team USA in foul trouble. Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook can have success putting pressure on Spain's guards but Spain is not likely to just throw the ball all over the court the way that some of the weaker FIBA teams do, so Team USA will have to play good half court defense and execute well in their half court offense in order to beat Spain if the teams meet in the medal round. Team USA shot 13-23 (.565) from three point range while holding Spain to just 5-19 (.263) shooting from behind the arc; the latter number is more significant: Team USA does not have to shoot a great three point percentage to win FIBA events (though Team USA is almost unbeatable if they do shoot a great three point percentage while not neglecting the defensive end of the court) but it is important for Team USA to effectively guard the three point line without giving up easy points in the paint. Team USA struggled defensively early in the game but looked much better in that regard during the final three quarters.
posted by David Friedman @ 1:47 AM