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Monday, August 08, 2016

Team USA Blows Out Venezuela After First Quarter Wake-up Call

Venezuela led Team USA 16-15 late in the first quarter of game two of Group A play but Carmelo Anthony scored 10 straight second quarter points as Team USA blew the game open to take a 48-26 halftime lead en route to a 113-69 victory. Paul George led a balanced Team USA attack with a game-high 20 points on 6-7 field goal shooting. Jimmy Butler (17 points), Kevin Durant (16 points on 5-5 field goal shooting), Carmelo Anthony (14 points) and DeAndre Jordan (14 points plus a game-high nine rebounds) were Team USA's other double figure scorers. Kyle Lowry led Team USA with nine assists. John Cox, Kobe Bryant's cousin, paced Venezuela with 19 points but he shot just 6-20 from the field. Starting center Gregory Echenique was Venezuela's best all-around player, tallying 18 points and a team-high seven rebounds.

Team USA used the same starting lineup that they used against China--Durant, Anthony, DeMarcus Cousins, Klay Thompson and Kyrie Irving--and got off to very sluggish start. Doug Collins noted that Team USA assistant coach Jim Boeheim believes that the starting unit relies very heavily on three point shooting and that when they are missing their outside shots this can lead to slow starts. Whatever the reason, Durant was the only starter who performed well early in the game. He made his first three shots, while the rest of the team started out 1-6 from the field. After an Echenique putback, Venezuela led 11-10.

Venezuela had an excellent game plan: slow the game down, be smart with the ball and be physical. As Marv Albert put it, Venezuela wanted to "muck the game up." During the telecast, we saw highlights of Team USA's 156-73 win over Nigeria in the 2012 Olympics; Nigeria's willingness to run with Team USA was perhaps brave but certainly foolish. Venezuela had the right approach but simply lacks the depth to execute this game plan for 40 minutes against Team USA. During the first quarter, Collins said that the way Venezuela played Team USA is "the blueprint. They are not talented enough to beat the U.S. but other teams will be watching this."

The first quarter of this game reminded me very much of Team USA's 101-95 loss to Greece in the 2006 FIBA World Championship, with Echenique reprising the role of Sofoklis Schortsanitis. Cousins picked up two fouls in the first two minutes of the game, he was mumbling to himself on the way to the bench and he was a non-factor in the rest of the contest, finishing with six points and fouling out after playing only nine minutes. Thompson also got two quick fouls and he finished with 0 points in 15 minutes. At the end of the first quarter the score was tied 18-18. Team USA shot 7-15 from the field and committed six turnovers. Collins said that to beat Team USA you need good guards (to avoid turnovers and control tempo) and toughness.

The momentum shifted dramatically in the second quarter, as Team USA struck with a fresh wave of players and Venezuela could not keep pace. Collins pointed out that the second quarter has been problematic for Venezuela in general. It was a nightmare versus Team USA, as Team USA outscored Venezuela 30-8 to take a 48-26 halftime lead. Durant (11 points) and Anthony (10 points) led the way in the first half. Anthony made a key play early in the quarter, stripping Echenique in the post, getting the steal and then burying a three pointer on the ensuing possession to put Team USA up 31-22.

It is a treat to listen to Collins' color commentary and Marv Albert's play by play. Collins is well versed not only about Team USA but also about every other team in the field and the FIBA game in general (for those too young to remember, Collins starred for Team USA in the 1972 Olympics before becoming the number one overall pick in the NBA draft). Collins called George a "security blanket" for Team USA Coach Mike Krzyzewski because George can do a variety of things coming off of the bench. George has bounced back nicely from the severe leg injury that he suffered in 2014 while trying out for Team USA.

Team USA will face Australia on Wednesday. Australia is always a physical, tough and well-disciplined team and it will be interesting to see how Team USA responds to that challenge. Collins observed that Team USA can become stagnant offensively when forced to play in the half court. Team USA thrives on open court turnovers that can be converted into transition points. If Australia refrains from turning the ball over and runs half court offense with precision the way that Venezuela did for about 10 minutes, then Wednesday's game could be more competitive than it might look on paper. No team in this tournament could beat Team USA in a seven game series but in the medal round the Olympics is like the NCAA Tournament and one loss in a 40 minute game will cost you the gold medal. Team USA should heed the lessons learned during the first quarter against Venezuela and not just rest on their laurels based on the final margin of victory.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:12 PM

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