Team USA Dominates NigeriaKobe Bryant made sure that Team USA did not get off to a slow start this time; he scored 14 points in the first 6:06 as Team USA led Nigeria from opening tip to final buzzer, winning 156-73 to improve to 3-0 in Group A and clinch a spot in the quarterfinal round--not that advancing was ever in doubt but now it is official, with the next step being to earn the top seed. Team USA set numerous records: they shattered Brazil's all-time Olympic record of 138 points (Team USA's previous all-time Olympic high was 133, while the 1992 Dream Team twice scored 127 points), they broke the Team USA mark for margin of victory in the Olympics (the old standard was 72, set in a 101-29 victory over Thailand in 1956) and their 14 first half three pointers alone were good enough to set a Team USA single game Olympic record. Team USA shot an astounding 29-46 (.630) from three point range overall. Bryant finished with 16 points on 6-8 field goal shooting in just 11 minutes; his early barrage included two three pointers and a reverse dunk after he stole the ball and drove full court. Carmelo Anthony took advantage of extensive garbage time to set the single game Team USA Olympic scoring record with 37 points on 13-16 shooting, including a blistering 10-12 from three point range. Russell Westbrook scored 21 points on 7-8 field goal shooting and he also contributed three steals plus two assists. Kevin Love added 15 points and six rebounds in a team-high 23 minutes, while Deron Williams had a double double (13 points, 11 assists). Kevin Durant finished with 14 points and six assists, while LeBron James had six points and five assists.
Nigeria has more NBA players than a casual American basketball fan might realize; Al-Farouq Aminu (seven points plus a team-high four assists) and Ike Diogu (27 points and seven rebounds, team-highs in both categories) were both NBA Lottery picks, while Olumide Oyedeji (0 points in just nine minutes) played 93 games for Seattle and Orlando from 2000-03.
This game is yet another example of how deceptive box score numbers can be; it would be easy to assume that Team USA beat Nigeria mainly because of their prolific three point shooting but the reality is that Team USA's superior athleticism silenced Nigeria's offense and also forced Nigeria to play a zone defense that conceded wide open jumpers that Team USA made with great regularity. However, the key for Team USA against the better FIBA teams will be to use pressure defense to shut down the perimeter game without giving up easy baskets in the paint; it is not essential for Team USA to make a lot of three pointers but when Team USA gets hot from three point range they are capable of blowing out any FIBA squad.
Neither Tunisia nor Nigeria had a realistic chance to beat Team USA but Team USA should have a higher internal standard than just winning: Team USA should play the right way at all times, sharing the ball on offense to create open shots and pressing all over the court on defense to force turnovers and bad shots. Team USA should never have trailed against Tunisia, let alone allow Tunisia to have a three point lead more than seven minutes into the first quarter. Team USA's dominating performance against Nigeria is a step in the right direction with just two more Group A games remaining before elimination play begins. Team USA will face Lithuania on Saturday and then conclude Group A play against Argentina on Monday.
posted by David Friedman @ 7:20 PM