Team USA Rallies From Halftime Deficit to Beat Australia, 98-88Australia led Team USA for most of the first half and enjoyed a 54-49 halftime advantage before Team USA rallied in the second half to prevail, 98-88. Carmelo Anthony will be featured in most of the headlines thanks to his game-high 31 points but Team USA needed a dominant defensive effort in the concluding 20 minutes to escape with a win that was closer than the final margin might suggest. Anthony shot 11-21 from the field (including 9-15 from three point range) and he tied DeMarcus Cousins with a game-high eight rebounds. Kyrie Irving turned in another strong performance with 19 points and a team-high five assists. Anthony and Irving combined to score Team USA's first 26 points in a very competitive fourth quarter with the game on the line. Kevin Durant was Team USA's only other double figure scorer (14 points) but he shot just 4-16 from the field and did not leave his imprint on the game.
Australia's roster includes four players who have won an NBA championship and it was evident from the start that this team was not the slightest bit intimidated or awed by Team USA. Patty Mills led Australia with 30 points on 11-22 field goal shooting but he had plenty of help from three other players with NBA experience: Andrew Bogut contributed 15 points on 7-9 field goal shooting, David Andersen chipped in 13 points and Matthew Dellavedova got under the skin of multiple Team USA players while scoring 11 points and dishing a game-high 11 assists. The scrappy Dellavedova also led Australia with six rebounds, quite a feat for a small guard playing for a team that starts two quality big men.
Doug Collins aptly noted that Australia is a team that has good talent but is also better than the sum of its parts, while Team USA fielded the 12 best individual players. Team USA would not trade any of its players straight up for one of the Australians, yet Australia kept the game close by playing tough and playing with a cohesion that is wonderful to watch.
Anthony's offensive skill set is well suited to FIBA play, particularly when he plays power forward; most big FIBA forwards are too slow to check him and most smaller FIBA forwards are not strong enough to guard him in the post. Anthony is also at his best when he can just catch and shoot in one on one matchups, as opposed to having to create his own shot when the defense is tilted toward him; that is when Anthony becomes a "ball-stopper" but on Team USA he is surrounded by great talent and he has the luxury of playing one on one in favorable matchups. Anthony also loves the shorter FIBA three point line.
Anthony's 31 points are tied for the second-most by a U.S. Olympian (Anthony holds the record with 37 points in just 14 minutes versus Nigeria in the 2012 Olympics). He also surpassed LeBron James to become the leading scorer in Team USA Olympic history (293 points); that statistic is a little deceptive because Anthony has now played in four Olympics while most Team USA basketball players over the years only played in one Olympics.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski tweaked the Team USA starting lineup by inserting Paul George for Klay Thompson but the move did nothing to reverse the slow starts that have plagued Team USA. George finished with 5 points on 2-6 field goal shooting in 17 minutes, while Thompson had six points on 2-9 field goal shooting in 23 minutes. Oddly, Thompson had Team USA's best plus/minus score (14), followed by Irving (12) and Anthony (10).
Anthony opened the game with two quick three pointers to put Team USA up 6-0 but Australia took a 10-9 lead after Mills hit a three pointer. George was then whistled for a technical foul after pushing Dellavedova and Dellavedova's free throw extended the margin to 11-9. Australia was up 25-17 when Coach Krzyzewski went to his "pitbull lineup" (as Collins calls Team USA's defensive-minded second unit); by the end of the quarter, the score was tied 29-29. Anthony poured in 14 first quarter points, shooting 5-7 from the field overall and 4-5 from three point range.
A Durant three pointer gave Team USA a 32-29 lead early in the second quarter but Team USA quickly found out that Australia is not Venezuela; instead of wilting in the second quarter like Venezuela did versus Team USA, Australia forged ahead thanks to good second unit play to complement the outstanding efforts of the starters. A Mills three pointer pushed the Australian lead to 41-36. It is important to note that by this point Team USA had shot an outstanding 8-17 (.471) from three point range; contrary to popular belief, it is neither essential for Team USA to shoot well from beyond the arc in order to win in FIBA play nor is good three point shooting a guarantee for victory if Team USA is deficient defensively. Just as fast as Anthony rained in three pointers, Team USA gave up layups and open jumpers at the other end of the court.
After Australia went up 46-39, Collins said that Australia's "screening and back-cutting" looked like a clinic. Australia led 54-49 at halftime. This was the first time that Team USA trailed at halftime during Olympic play since the infamous 89-81 loss to Argentina in the 2004 Olympics. Anthony scored 17 first half points but Mills dropped 15 for Australia while Bogut chipped in 13 points. Team USA shot 10-21 from three point range but allowed Australia to shoot a blistering 19-28 (.679) from the field overall.
During the halftime show, Fran Fraschilla stated several times that Team USA needed to make some adjustments but Dan Patrick never asked the obvious question: What adjustments should Team USA make? I would say that the biggest adjustments had to do more with concentration and effort than any specific strategy tweaks; Australia feasted on easy baskets in the first half because Team USA allowed too many cuts and did not work hard enough to contest Australia's shots.
Team USA's energy level went up a notch at the start of the third quarter, leading to a 9-0 run. Australia made just one of their first seven field goal attempts as Team USA paid better attention to detail on defense. Australia proved to be tough-minded, though, and they were not rattled by Team USA's attack. When Cousins went to the bench with his fourth foul at the 5:09 mark the score was tied 60-60. Draymond Green concluded the stanza with a fadeaway jumper plus the foul and his free throw gave Team USA a tenuous 70-67 lead.
Australia opened the fourth quarter with an Andersen three pointer and a Joe Ingles fast break layup to take a 72-70 lead. The tide turned when Team USA combined tough defense with some fine shotmaking by Anthony. Anthony tied the game at 72 with a strong drive, though he missed a free throw that could have made it a three point play. Anthony then drilled four three pointers to put Team USA on top 88-80. Australia kept battling, though, and after Irving missed a layup a long pass to Mills resulted in a fast break layup that trimmed the margin to 90-86. Irving answered with a huge three pointer from almost exactly the spot on the court where he buried the Golden State Warriors late in game seven of the 2016 NBA Finals. Australia forced a Team USA shot clock violation while down 93-88 with 36.3 seconds left but could not hit a timely shot to make it a one possession game.
Hopefully, this game will put a stop to the nonsensical talk about how boring it is to watch Team USA cruise to the gold medal or how Team USA should only use college players in the future; a Team USA squad consisting entirely of college players would have lost to Australia by at least 10 points. Australia is a wily and physical team with veteran pros who would figure out how to frustrate young college kids. There is no reason or justification for Team USA to impose artificial handicaps on itself and the game of basketball benefits as a whole when the world's best try to measure themselves against Team USA.
posted by David Friedman @ 2:09 AM