The medal round. This is what we’ve been waiting for. When things get serious. Win and advance, lose and you go home. Three wins and you get a gold. The pressure is on now.
Except, for the USA the first game of the medal round should be their easiest game in a week.
The USA, undefeated winners of Group A, face Australia, the fourth place team in Group B. Let me explain the talent difference between these two sides this way: Not only would none of the Australian players make Team USA, none of them even would have been invited to the USA Select Team of young players who train with Team USA.
Australia is led by Patty Mills, who is tied with Pau Gasol as the leading scorer in the Olympics at 20.6 per game. You know him as former St. Mary’s star who played in China during the lockout then returned to join the Spurs last season. But Mills barely got off the bench in San Antonio when it mattered. And he’s the only name on the Australian team you would know.
But sometimes you can overcome wide talent disparity of the matchups favor you… nope, that’s not happening.
One of the reasons Mills doesn’t get off the bench in the NBA much is he can be pressured into turnovers and bad decisions (and his instinct is to shoot not pass anyway). The USA has taken a “cut the head off the snake” defensive approach to these games — pressure and deny the ball to the opponent’s best player. Take him out of the game.
Mills can expect Chris Paul and Deron Williams to hound him all night long. Then Russell Westbrook will take over the task. And if they get bored Andre Iguodala or Kobe Bryant will jump in. Mills is in for a long night, and that’s not good for his teammates.
On the other end of the court, expect Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony to put up points. Expect LeBron James to be setting guys up. Expect some big dunks. Expect Anthony Davis to be able to enter the game early if he remembers to put on his jersey. Expect the USA to pretty much run away and hide in this one. If they don’t, it’s on them.
Come Friday the USA will have a tougher game, against Brazil or Argentina. This is the last one of the London Olympics where the USA should have an easy time of it. They need to enjoy it — and not pick up any bad habits along the way. Because this is still the medal round.