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Team USA better be scared straight
For the Americans, this was a good win, but ultimately bad news.
On the plus side of the ledger, Coach K called Chauncey Billups (not Kevin Durant) in an iso sequence for the Americans’ last and most critical possession of the game. Mr. Big Shot came through with a powerful right-handed drive and layup that provided Team USA’s final margin.
Good call, Coach, going for experience over young blood — even though KD already had notched 27 points.
Krzyzewski also supervised the highly effective adjustment during the halftime intermission that nullified Brazil’s high screen/rolls. Whereas in the opening two quarters, Brazil tallied 21 of its 46 points on variations of this tandem offense, by doubling the ball and jump-switching, the U.S. team limited this tactic to only two points in the second half.
An even better call, Coach.
Moreover, by sniping at the ball whenever Tiago Splitter had possession in the low post, the young man was limited to four interior scores.
Despite Brazil’s determined efforts to hustle back in transition defense, the Americans scored 23 points on fast breaks and early offense.
The final entry on the plus side of the book is that Team USA won a close, hard-fought victory.
The mistakes, however, were numerous.
• For the most part, the weak-side rotations on defense were either late, poorly coordinated, or nonexistent.
• Backcourt turnovers led to five easy points for Brazil.
• The offense was scoreless in four possessions against zone defenses.
• Only two points were registered as a result of set plays: a baseline flex-cut for a layup by Billups.
• Otherwise, the half-court offense was incredibly stagnant, limited to several quick perimeter shots (most notably by Billups, Lamar Odom, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook) and too many isolation situations. In 35 iso tries, the USA recorded only 28 points while committing 10 turnovers.
• The Brazilians’ quick-handed, deny defense, along with the Americans’ impatience, produced a total of 21 turnovers by the United States.
• On too many possessions, it seemed as though the Americans were an All-Star pick-up team that had been hastily assembled just minutes before the game. No wonder Team USA was credited with only nine assists, compared with 16 by the Brazilians.
How, then, did the Americans survive?
• Because their depth simply wore down their opponents who, late in the game, started missing the same open shots they had converted throughout the first half.
• Because Marcelo Huertas missed an easy floater after he was fouled with 3.5 seconds left that would have tied the score and given Brazil a chance to take the lead with the ensuing free throw.
• Because Huertas misfired on his first free throw and then was forced to deliberately miss his second.
• Because, after capturing this critical offensive rebound, Leandro Barbosa missed a decidedly routine layup just before the buzzer ended the game.
Team USA might not be so lucky if it had to face Brazil in the knock-out round — a distinct possibility — especially if Anderson Varejao is healthy enough to return to action by then.
Greece, Argentina and Spain have to be heartened by the Americans’ disorganized performance — and now have a proven game plan to implement.
Besides remaining undefeated, the best news is for the Americans is that whatever their flaws, they should cruise against Iran and Tunisia. Which means Coach K and his staff will have at least three days of practice to make the necessary adjustments.
Perhaps the close call can motivate or scare the Americans into dutifully learning their lessons in that time frame. Perhaps not.
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