Some classes in college, are easy and some are difficult and you generally figure that out within the first couple weeks are so (hell sometimes Syllabus day tells you all you need to know). There are those classes where you can do the homework and get points, do the quizzes, get the attendance, and you might have an A but you never truly know what your grade is until that first test.
Today was Team USA’s first test, and they passed.
I used that college analogy because it fits here: had Team USA lost this one, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world. Just like failing that first test doesn’t mean you’re going to fail the class. It would have taught them a lesson and better prepared them for the real pressure cooker: the single elimination round. By passing, they have a better understanding of where they are at and know what to do in the future to get good results. And just like in college, sometimes you get lucky and the teacher gives you an answer or gives up free points. That’s what I’d call Huertas missing that free throw and Barbosa missing that layup.
It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t pretty but the Red, White & Blue prevailed. The odd part about this game against Brazil is its as if all of the concerns about this team coming in–interior size, pick and roll defense, experience, offensive ability, turnover–rolled together to create an awful storm which nearly bowled them over. Give all the credit to Brazil, they played a magnificent game, but Team USA could have helped themselves a lot more than they did. Brazil had an insane first quarter, shooting 14-for-21 from the field, 5-of-7 from three and scored 28 points on 19 possessions. While those may seem like numbers in a video game when the computer decides you aren’t winning, credit Brazil…their offensive movement was smooth, crisp and Team USA seemed to have no answer.
Problem #1 was pick and roll defense, something many were concerned with going in and something that was validated today. For some reason, for the majority of the game Team USA couldn’t put it all together. There were times where Lamar Odom was in no man’s land–not helping the guard and not putting himself in position to challenge the shot. Then there were times when he was there, but the guard couldn’t get back in time. Then there were other times when the helpside D sucked in just a little too much and Brazil found the open guy for a 3. It was almost like watching the Utah Jazz and the way they can pick people apart on the pick and roll. I now realize that this is where Team USA truly misses a ‘big’ center who can challenge opponents at the basket. Tyson Chandler didn’t play much, but when he did Brazil’s mindset changed. Instead of looking to score of their penetration they were looking to kick which made life a lot easier on Team USA.
Problem #2 was sloppy offense. Taking the first quarter and the first minute of the second quarter, Team USA had 7 turnovers…or as many as they had in 40 minutes against Croatia. As great as Kevin Durant was (27 points, main reason why the US was able to stick around), he can’t have 7 turnovers. Against a better team, 22 turnovers could be the death knell and some of those were just non-sensical. Not only that, but there was a little bit too much isolation offense for my liking for the majority of the game. Quick, contested jumpers can really hurt you in the international game because it’s either going to create a fast break opportunity for the defense or (even worse) you could end up having to play D for a full shot clock.
The good news is that Team USA was able to play different kind of styles in this game. From the jump, Brazil was the first team we’ve seen that was not afraid to push it right back at Team USA and play a faster game. To their credit, Team USA made the adjustments. Not only that, they were able to play a slower, smarter, half-court game in the second half to get the win. It wasn’t perfect, but showing that they are multi-dimensional and have that capability will be big in later rounds.
Durant, Derrick Rose and Chauncey Billups did the majority of the scoring, combining for 53 of the US’s 70 points. They need help, relying on Durant to drop that many could get this team in trouble. While he took some questionable shots, Billups was huge in the second half with the way he attacked Tiago Splitter. It was almost as if he took it personally. Rose was solid and sprinkled in some of his unreal athleticism. Lamar Odom has got to find a way to be more of a factor, because for the majority of his time out there he wasn’t. I thought Tyson Chandler did a phenomenal job in his 5 minutes of action, moreso because of the impact that he had on Brazil’s offense than anything he did in the box score.
(Speaking of Splitter, he looked solid and just looks like a guy who should be in a Spurs uniform. I don’t know if he’ll get the kind of freedom he had here, but he’s going to contribute for them from the jump.)
The starters had to do a lot of the heavy lifting tonight (all 5 playing 29+ minutes Durant playing 39), possibly because Coach K didn’t trust his bench or they didn’t perform. The depth that we had all fawned over the past couple games just wasn’t there. Russell Westbrook, Rudy Gay and Eric Gordon all were spotlighted as being great sparks off the bench before the game by Fran Fraschilla–they combined to score 3 points on 0-for-5 shooting and were a non-factor. I still maintain that Kevin Love is a major factor on this team–confirmed by Coach K picking him as the first big off the bench and one of the first subs–but this was not his match-up. He can rebound and defend in the post, but he struggled a bit in the pick and roll simply because guys thought they could finish over him. The bench has to be better.
The good news is the starters should be able to get some rest and the bench should get their swagger back over the next two games. Barring a weird or wacky performance, they should steamroll over the bottom 2 in their group: Iran and Tunisia. A well deserved day off tomorrow before returning to the court on Wednesday against Iran…get your Haddadi jokes ready.
Topics: Chauncey Billups, Derrick Rose, Fiba World Championships, Kevin Durant, Lamar Odom, Rudy Gay, Russell Westbrook, Team USA, Team Usa Brazil, Team Usa Score, Tiago Splitter, Tyson Chandler, Usa Basketball, Usa Brazil