Tag: 2012 London Olympics

London Olympics Basketball Men

Chris Paul and subtle art of taking over a game


Chris Paul is athletic, but not Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook athletic where he can make a move that has your jaw drop like you’re in a Tex Avery cartoon.

Chris Paul can shoot and score, but he’s not unstoppably pure like Kevin Durant or Ray Allen.

Chris Paul did not put up a monster stat line in the USA’s gold medal win over Spain on Sunday — 11 points and two assists — but if you watched the game closely you saw why Chris Paul is the best pure point guard on the planet. You saw him take control of Team USA and the game.

He does it all the time, but he does it in a more subtle way than some of the game’s explosive superstars and it gets overlooked. It shouldn’t. Paul’s game is cerebral, he is the conductor of the orchestra, not the soloist (unless he has to be). The USA needed that against Spain. They needed focus and direction that he provided on the court.

It’s not that he didn’t make a couple big plays — he hit a key fourth quarter three and had a brilliant driving layup, both of helped the USA keep ahead from Spain, both were key shots.

But that’s just a fraction of what Paul did. In the first half Spain’s guards — particularly Juan Carlos-Navarro — tore the USA defense up. Starting from the first play of the second half Paul was up on Navarro and the other Spain guards taking them out of their rhythm, removing space and easy angles to make plays (Pau Gasol kept Spain in it after that).

On offense, the tempo and flow of the game changed and Paul was key to that — he set Team USA up, he got some easy looks and got them running. It was him helping the Americans stretch out at the top of the fourth quarter and not looking back. It wasn’t done with thunderous dunks or highlight reel stuff, it was just done with amazingly good basketball instincts.

Watch Paul do it during the regular season as well. The Clippers are his teams and he directs games like a conductor. In a town with Kobe Bryant and now Dwight Howard, Paul can make a legitimate argument as being the best player in Los Angeles.

You just won’t notice it as simply.

Spain pushes USA, but too much LeBron, CP3, Durant makes USA golden

US forward Kevin Durant and US forward L

Spain had what they needed — spark plug Juan Carlos-Navarro couldn’t miss early and would not let the USA run away with the game. Pau Gasol took it right to the USA’s weakness in the second half and had 15 points in the third quarter to put his team ahead at one point.

But the USA had what they needed. They had 30 points from Kevin Durant who was so hot Spain was forced to go to a box-and-1 defense to shut him down. Chris Paul pressured on defense and controlled the tempo, then made key buckets late. Then LeBron James capped off as great a year as a basketball player could have — NBA MVP, NBA champion, gold medal — with key baskets to help the USA seal the game in the fourth quarter.

It ended 107-100 and the USA didn’t just win the gold medal, they had to earn it.

It was a fun, entertaining game for fans from the start — both teams started out shooting well. For Spain it was former Grizzlies guard Juan Carlos Navarro knocking down threes (12 of first 16 points for Spain). On the other side Kobe Bryant (who finished with 17) and Durant were knocking down buckets. Both teams were working the ball inside-out. Spain played a zone but early the USA drove down the lane and shot over the top of it.

So when Spain started to miss a little the USA went on a 10-2 run and they were up nine quickly. The USA hit 7-of-10 threes in the first quarter and they cannot be beat by anyone when those shots are falling. Kevin Durant finished with a game-high 30 points and 156 for the entire Olympics — the most any single player has scored in an Olympic tournament. Ever. Durant has cemented himself as the best pure scorer on the planet right now.

But when the USA’s threes don’t fall, the USA can be caught. Especially when they don’t defend well. Spain answer on a 14-2 run early in the second quarter and Spain kept it a one-point play at the half because their guards hung with the USA’s guards. Some overzealous officiating helped Spain as well as there were 22 fouls called in the second half, destroying any flow to the game. The USA needs that flow.

In the third, Pau Gasol showed all of us why he is so deadly in the post (Lakers fans should hope Mike Brown was watching and realizes he needs to get Gasol post touches, not have him live at the elbow). Gasol hit a running hook over Tyson Chandler, he spun and dunked around Kevin Love. Gasol had 15 points in the third quarter and finished with 24 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists.

It was 83-82 USA after three quarters. But Spain rested Pau and the USA went on a 12-4 run to stretch out their lead, a lead they never relinquished.

In part because Chris Paul was probably the best player on the floor in the second half. (Even with all the additions he may well be the best player in Los Angeles next year.) He pressured the Spanish guards up high on defense — Spain hit no threes in the second half after 7 in the first half. CP3 controlled the tempo of the game and late hit a three and had a nifty little drive for a bucket. But he controlled the flow, he was the floor general.

Then when Spain would make a push, LeBron pushed back. He hit a three, he played a two-man handoff game with Durant that led to a dunk (their two man handoff pick-and-roll was the USA’s best play through the Olympics). Durant didn’t have a big fourth quarter but because he had been so key earlier Spain focused their defense on him and that opened things up. Then there were good plays by Kobe and others.

It was too much. Spain played well but their problem was they were not the better, deeper, more talented team. They needed the USA’s help to win and the USA’s best players wouldn’t give it to them. They stepped up.

And so for the 14th time since Olympic basketball started, the USA is golden.

USA vs. Spain for the gold: We know how this is going to end

US forward Carmelo Anthony (R) celebrate

USA vs. Spain for the gold: We know how this is going to end. USA gold.

Spain has some real talent — Pau Gasol and Marc Gasol team up to make what would be the best front line in the NBA (well, maybe not anymore) and they surround the brothers with smart, playmaking guards who can shoot — Jose Calderon, Juan Carlos-Navarro, Rudy Fernandez. Spain can put up points.

And Spain has a plan for the USA — they learned some things in that exhibition loss to Team USA in Barcelona before the Olympics. Spain ran a zone on 15 of the 78 possessions in that game and the USA was 3-for-12 shooting with three turnovers against it. Expect to see a lot more of it now. Also, the USA struggled with the combo of Pau and Serge Ibaka, so Spain went away from it in that game, they will not go away from what works now.

And none of that is going to matter in the Gold Medal game Sunday.

When Team USA is playing well — when they are focused, pressuring on defense, sharing the ball and hitting threes — nobody can beat them. Nobody can stay close to them. Not Spain, not anybody.

And the USA, with as deep a team as they have had (at least since ’92) someone has always gotten hot. Usually it has been designated shooters Kevin Durant (18 points per game and shooting 55.8 percent from three for the Olympics) or Carmelo Anthony (17.4 points per game and 52.5 percent from three), but we have seen spurts of unstoppable play from LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook and everyone but Anthony Davis.

When the USA has struggled with teams — Lithuania, stretches against Argentina and even Australia — it is because two things happen. First, they take their foot off the defensive gas pedal, the pressure and intensity go away. Part of the USA’s strength is the depth of great athletes that wear teams down, but if the USA lets Spain have space and time to think they have the talent to make plays. They have to be pressured (and they have the talent to still make some good plays, just not enough).

Second, the threes don’t fall. That is the one thing that could undo the United States in the Gold Medal game. They are going to take more than 30 threes and if they hit 20 percent or less Spain has the offensive firepower to hang. Spain will live in their zone and let the USA launch threes all day.

But eventually they will fall. There is too much talent on the USA, too many good shooters, the shots will start to fall. They may not for a quarter or maybe a half, but they will.

And then the USA will run away with the game and gold. Spain is a good team, but nobody in the world is good enough.

Westbrook suffers mild ankle sprain, will play in gold medal game

Russell Westbrook
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UPDATE 9:56 am: Relax. Go back to drinking your morning coffee and not worry, Thunder and Team USA fans. The update on Westbrook is that he will go for Team USA Sunday in the gold medal game against Spain. Reports out of the Team USA camp are that he is “fine” and will play Sunday, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo.

If this were anything even slightly serious he would not play, so it can’t be too bad.

And now we get to see the Westbrook/Rudy Fernandez matchup on the international stage we have all dreamed about.

12:57 am: It’s not something Thunder fans should really worry about.

Well, unless you think Team USA needs a healthy Russell Westbrook to beat Spain (they don’t, no offense Russell).

Westbrook left and went back to the locker room during the USA’s thumping of Argentina and didn’t come back out. Which raised a few eyebrows. Here is an update, via Adrian Wojnaroski of Yahoo Sports of the NBC Sports Network.

Team USA’s Russell Westbrook suffered a mild ankle sprain, and his availability for the gold medal game on Sunday is uncertain.

Westbrook has been the energy wing off the bench for the USA (the Dwyane Wade role in 2008) and has averaged 9.3 points per game, shooting a respectable 47.7 percent.

He will be missed if he can’t go… but not so much as to suggest Spain has an advantage here. The USA just rolls out more James Harden or Andre Iguodala.

Ginobili says Argentina has “5-10 percent chance” of beating USA

Olympics Day 12 - Basketball

It’s going to take an almost perfect game from Argentina — and a little help from Team USA — for the Argentines to pull the upset Friday and advance to the gold medal game.

And they know it.

Look at what Argentina’s Manu Ginobili said, via Reuters.

“The odds are against us. We have a 10 percent or even a five percent chance of winning but we are going to fight for this,” San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said after driving his team past Brazil and into the semi-finals.


Argentina did push the United States in a tune up game for the Olympics (86-80) and they play a grinding style. They have some skill with Ginobili, Luis Scola, Carlos Delfino and others. With this being the third meeting between the teams in three weeks, Argentina knows what it has to do.

“We are going to try and turn the ball over less. Make a few shots in the second half and don’t let them run. Then if they get inspired and LeBron (James) or Kobe Bryant or someone get hot and hit 20 threes like they did in the last game, then there’s nothing you can do.”

Argentina needs to play its best game. It needs Team USA to help out by being cold from beyond the arc. And the chances of that are pretty slim.

Probably between five and 10 percent.