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Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Team USA's Depth Overwhelms Argentina

Team USA finished with a 5-0 record in Group A play after routing Argentina 126-97 but, for the second game in a row, Team USA faced a serious challenge in the early going before using their speed, defensive pressure and depth to eventually prevail. Argentina also battled very hard against Team USA during Team USA's pre-Olympic exhibition tour, so Argentina's competitiveness in the first half was less surprising than Lithuania's ability to stay close with Team USA for the entire 40 minutes. Kevin Durant led Team USA with a game-high 28 points. He shot 9-12 from the field, including 8-10 from three point range, and he also had four rebounds and four assists. Chris Paul had an outstanding all-around game: 17 points on 6-7 field goal shooting, seven assists and no turnovers. LeBron James contributed 18 points and five assists despite being limited to 22 minutes because of foul trouble. Reserves Kevin Love and Andre Iguodala each finished with 13 points and nine rebounds. Kobe Bryant continued to struggle with his shot but he inched into double figures with 11 points and he remains a strong presence on defense. Carmelo Anthony scored just five points on 1-6 field goal shooting and since his primary value is his ability to score Coach Mike Krzyzewski only used Anthony for 12 minutes. Manu Ginobili paced a balanced Argentina attack with 16 points, six assists and five rebounds. Five of his teammates scored between 11 and 13 points, led by Carlos Delfino (13 points) and Andres Nocioni (12 points). Facundo Campazzo had eight points and seven assists in a game-high 37 minutes as he had to play virtually the entire game because starting point guard Pablo Prigioni sat out due to kidney stones.

Team USA jumped out to a 14-8 first quarter lead but Argentina answered with a 7-0 run keyed by five points by Ginobili. Team USA then responded with an 8-2 burst but Team USA could never get much separation throughout the first half and even trailed again on several occasions. Argentina would have won the first quarter if not for a buzzer beating three pointer by Durant that made the score 34-32 in Team USA's favor. Team USA never led by more than six points during the second quarter and only had a 60-59 halftime edge but in the third quarter things quickly fell apart for Argentina as James scored seven points in a 12-5 run that foreshadowed the 12-2 run that essentially ended the game; that second streak featured eight points by Durant, concluding with his back to back three pointers. By the end of the third quarter, Team USA had cruised to a 102-76 lead and they were content to essentially match baskets with Argentina during garbage time in the fourth quarter. The tide turned because a fresh, deep Team USA squad shut down Argentina's fatigued starters and then capitalized by either scoring in transition or else creating good shots in the half court offense with crisp ball movement as Argentina's defensive rotations became less precise.

FIBA teams that have some NBA talent on their rosters and the right game plan are capable of challenging Team USA for extended stretches but Team USA's depth--including a trio of MVP caliber wings (LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant), an armada of All-NBA caliber point guards (Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook), plus several other All-Stars--is very daunting to face even in a 40 minute game that is eight minutes shorter than an NBA contest. The overall team statistics in blowouts featuring extensive garbage time are often skewed but the consistent pattern we have seen is that Team USA starts slowly--forcing jump shots and playing spotty defense--while their opponents are fired up and efficient in the early going, using screen/roll actions to create open shots while packing the paint on defense and enticing Team USA to shoot long jumpers. Eventually, Team USA either wears down the opposing team's starters or else exploits their inferior bench players to break the game open by clamping down on defense and scoring in transition; Team USA's three pointers that come in transition or as a result of drive/kick plays are good, rhythm shots--Team USA needs to refrain from taking contested three pointers early in the shot clock with little or no ball movement. Despite the gaudy shooting numbers that Team USA has posted in the Olympics, including a .458 three point percentage, Team USA's foundation is the pressure defense that creates open shots.

Durant led Team USA in scoring during Group A play (18.6 ppg), Kevin Love topped the squad in rebounding (6.4 rpg) and Chris Paul averaged a team-high 5.8 apg. Team USA's next game on Wednesday is a quarterfinal round elimination showdown versus Australia, which finished with a 3-2 record in Group B.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:31 AM

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