It’s still the one thing the USA can do in basketball that the rest of the world can’t match.
The USA rolls with a dozen top-flight players — Danny Granger leads the Indiana Pacers in scoring, is an All-Star and gets DNPs on this team. He’d star on any other team in the World Championships.
That kind of depth wears teams down, and that’s just what happened with the USA beating Russia 89-79 to advance to the semi-finals Saturday (against Argentina or Lithuania).
Early on the Russians did a good job of making the USA pay for defensive pressure and gambles. Russia is not a great shooting team but they couldn’t seem to miss their threes early on. They also crashed the glass hard at both ends, creating second chance opportunities for themselves (six offensive rebounds in the quarter), limiting the USA’s second chances. At the end of the first quarter it was 25-25.
Through it all USA did a great job of sticking with its game plan. First, get out and run — the USA picked up several baskets on run-outs after Russian makes.
The other was to attack the zone off the dribble and get inside, and nobody was doing that like Kevin Durant. Because there is no player in this tournament like Durant. He finished with 33 points for the game and was 8 of 11 on two pointers and got to the line nine times. He was in attack mode and carried the USA for stretches.
Russia’s effort was there, but they could not keep up with the waves of players the USA kept sending at them. Russell Westbrook came off the bench and his speed and pressure defense was too much for the Russians to handle, and he finished with a dozen points. Chauncey Billups had 15 points and was 4 of 8 from three.
Near the end of the second quarter, the USA went on a 12-0 run that gave them a seven-point lead and they never looked back. In the third the USA stretched the lead out by being efficient — the USA had no third quarter turnovers. Russia missed J.R. Holden, their star point guard, as they started to melt under the USA pressure in the second half. Mentally, the Russians could not stand up to the relentless American attack.
The one Russian most being watched in America was Knicks signee Timofey Mozgov — and he looked talented but raw. He had 9 points in the first quarter and showed that he is very good at setting picks and rolling to the basket. He outplayed Lamar Odom at times. Mozgov was also a foul sponge, picking up four pretty quickly, which limited his minutes and how aggressive he could be on the floor.
Mozgov is not going to come in and dominate at the NBA level, but he does some things well and he moves well. You can see him developing into something nice. Which is about what we all expected.
This was not a dominant USA performance, it gave you some glimpses of what the USA can expect in the next two rounds. Russia for long stretches went away from its Princeton-inspired offense and went pick-and-roll, and that gave the USA some trouble (especially with Mozgov as the roll man). But the USA seemed to improve at defending the play as things went along.
But it was still a quality win against a good opponent. A good showing for the USA. They may have to play better in future rounds, but this was a win to be proud of.