Well, then. If not quite as emphatic as in the days of Dream Teams I through III, Team USA dispatched the world’s second-best/Europe’s best side for a 100-78 win over Spain in Barcelona. Though the notebook on the Red, White and Blues mostly accentuates the positive, one doesn’t quite need to squint to see chinks in the armor – particularly with that glaring asterisk in the box score, i.e. the absence of Marc Gasol and Sergio Rodriguez.
In an Olympic field that appears to be the strongest ever on paper, could a flawed team like this one still grab the gold? (And if flawed teams are in the running for a podium spot, is Lithuania more enthused?)
A few lines from BallinEurope’s notebook and other stuff (like highlights) follow.
• Welcome back, Carmelo Anthony! Last night Americans finally saw Team USA’s hyped-as-spectacular international player demonstrating why he’s billed as such. As a sixth man with fantastic range that can fill the no. 4 spot, Anthony is the deadliest weapon in the arsenal.
Despite Spain’s apparent ability to match up well with the Yanks, Los Rojos simply had no answer for the two-time champion as Melo went for 23 points – just shy of half the USA’s total output – from everywhere on the floor, including 5-of-6 success from that shortened arc. Put Sergio Llull on him? Nope. Serge Ibaka? Come on! Sergio Scariolo would probably never admit it, but subconsciously at least he’s mentally wringing his hands over how to defend Anthony for 40 minutes in a knockout game.
• Something you’ll hear a zillion times before the final national anthem plays: Team USA must overcome its lack of size with its abundant speed. Said Kobe on the already well-worn subject last night: “We have a lot of speed. A lot of speed. LeBron’s 6’9”, Carmelo’s 6’9”, Durant’s 6’10”. And we’re fast. When you have that amount of speed, it makes up for it.”
In this respect, Team USA backers have got to be thrilled that their side barely missed a beat – were able to turn the speed up a notch, even – after Tyson Chandler earned two personal fouls and bench time in the fourth minute of play last night.
What’s interesting against this now clichéd sentiment, however, is the possibility that Scariolo’s game plan may make the Spanish more vulnerable to Team USA’s speed than in 2008 under Aíto García Reneses. In 2008, we were told, the Spanish could run with the Americans but preferred the halfcourt game. In 2012, with the nucleus essentially the same but four years older, Scariolo seeks a team that can run the floor like Team USA. In the half-court game, Scariolo prefers to call lots of off-ball stuff and oodles of pick-and-rolls while relatively deemphasizing post play. The Americans’ quickness is suited to adapt to this game plan in addition to its bringing the tournament’s nastiest perimeter defense. Triangle offense, anyone…?
• Speaking of Scariolo’s offensive systems, perhaps even more significant to the final result was the DNP recorded not by Marc Gasol, but by Sergio Rodriguez. A shoutout here to BallinEurope’s man in Italy, Enrico Cellini, who wisely suggested to BiE that it’s just possible Team Spain might be better off with Rodriguez than celebrated wunderkind Ricky Rubio.
One of the main reasons Rubio’s importance (and statistics) were down in the 2010 FIBA World Championship and 2011 Eurobasket tournaments was simply due to a clash of playing style vs. coaching style. Reneses preferred to have Rubio take on isolation defenses against older, slower guys (and whoa, could he make Jason Kidd and Tony Parker look bad at times) while allowing his Nash-like playmaking. Scariolo not so much. Forget the Gasol: It’s the reinsertion of Spanish Chocolate into this lineup that’ll give Spain a new look in London.
• As for the defense … well, have you ever seen a team take apart a Spanish 2-3 zone like these guys did in the second half?
• And onto the continuing soap opera at Team USA’s point guard position. (It’s not really a soap opera, thanks to the necessary ego-quashing from the American players, but the thought excites.) Chris Paul started at PG, a move that BiE likes for the US. Far be it for BiE to criticize Beşiktaş legend Deron Williams, but after a half-dozen scrimmages, it’s clear that Paul is a much better facilitator for this particular team – and even got things going last night with some nifty shot creation in the first quarter.
Russell Westbrook, third among the trio to enter the game, was among the chief perpetrators in the aforementioned immolation of Scariolo’s zone in the second half and again more efficiently drove the lane than D-Will.
When Williams entered the floor, the successful mid-range game was at least temporarily abandoned. On his first possession, Williams launched a three with “just” 20 remaining on the 24-second clock. He chased this with a drive from the arc to get the bucket and-one. A couple times down the floor thereafter, D-Will tossed up yet another three, drew the foul … and missed two of the FTs.
Not a good number: Excluding the Britain game, D-Will shot just 8-of-21 in Team USA’s friendlies. With a disadvantage under the boards, Williams must be tamed before the London Games are done – or dropped to no. 3 on the depth chart.
• News flash (not): Lebron James scored 25 points.
• At one point, ESPN color man (and former University of New Mexico Lobos coach!) Fran Fraschilla noted that the Achilles’ heel of this Team USA could be free throws. Maybe so, but the Yanks shot 66.1% in the five exhibition games, right about at 14-of-21 in the average game. For comparison’s sake, the percentage is exactly the same amassed by … Serge Ibaka. Weird. Also, yeesh.
• Age could be a factor – for Team Spain, that is. We’ve heard that it’s the experience that will carry Los Rojos deep into the Olympic tournament, but could the kilometers put on by key members hurt the team down the stretch? After celebrating his 200th cap with Spain, Juan Carlos Navarro went out and … played about 10 minutes, appearing only in highlight clips when rejected by Anthony Davis.
With a few notable exceptions – Pau, Ibaka, Llull – the *entire Spanish side* appeared a step too slow. While surely some of this may be due to that voluminous velocity of Team USA, Argentina’s similarly-aged guys managed to keep pace with the Americans.
BiE wonders if Father Time might make his presence felt by Spain against younger, feisty teams like Brazil, Russia … and one could include the USA itself.
• Despite that asterisk, by the way, Spain-based Solo Basket proclaims that Team USA is still the team to beat.
• O, and that hop-step thing which FIBA referees call “travelling”? Lebron is no longer Team USA’s sole guilty party getting whistled: The first six minutes of the Spain game saw the US commit five turnovers – four of them travelling violations. Kobe, KD, Chris Paul … no one may be immune in London.