Tag: USA Basketball

Olympics Day 10 - Basketball

Quick look at opening Olympic medal round games


Finally, we are done with the “everyone gets to play” portion of Olympic basketball. Time to get on with it.

Eight teams remain in the win-or-go home medal round tournament starting Wednesday. The matchups are set after Brazil knocked off Spain (with Spain sitting key players in the fourth) and a surprise that didn’t matter (Australia over Russia).

Here is a quick look at what is to come:

USA vs. Australia: This is a game the USA should win handily. Not Nigeria handily, but more like France handily. Australia is led by everyone’s favorite underdog Patty Mills, who hit the game-winning three against Russia Wednesday. Mills led St. Mary’s to college the NCAA tournament and has played in Portland and, last season, San Antonio. He’s fun to watch, and has averaged 20.6 points per game during the Olympics, but overmatched in this one. Australia has had a good Olympics, especially considering Andrew Bogut couldn’t play. They upset Russia and made it out of the group stage. That’s going to have to be enough.

Brazil vs. Argentina: Two South American rivals that know each other very well and this likely is the best game of the next round. Brazil has real size with Nene (who missed the team’s last game with more plantar fasciitis, which bothered him last NBA season, too) and Tiago Splitter. But their best player the last couple of games has been Leandro Barbosa, who is trying to get an NBA contract. Argentina has a lot of NBA talent — Manu Ginobili has been amazing through the games and Luis Scola is outscoring him — but they have been inconsistent — they lost to France, they struggled against Nigeria and they had a terrible second half against the United States Monday. I’d say which Argentinian team shows up will determine the outcome.

France vs. Spain: France has been underrated good — Tony Parker has played into his conditioning and is scoring 15.8 a game while controlling the offense. Nicolas Batum has been dropping 16.8 per game and playing good wing defense. Other guys like former Sonic Mickael Gelabale and Nando De Colo have stepped up at key spots. They have been a good offensive team. But they are not as talented as Spain who roles out Pau Gasol (20.6 points per game in the Olympics), Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Juan Carlos Navarro, Rudy Fernandez and other stars. But from the tune-ups through two losses in group play (although they kind of mailed in the end of the Brazil game, some might say tanked) they have just not been right. If Spain can find their old groove they will win this one, but if they are just half a step slow France is playing very well.

Russia vs. Lithuania: Russia won Group B and looked very good, maybe the second best team in the games, so we’re willing to write off the meaningless loss to Australia Monday. Andrei Kirilenko has averaged 18.2 points per game, and fellow soon-to-be Timberwolves player Aleksey Shved has averaged a dozen a game. But Lithuania is the kind of veteran team that can make a real contest of it if Russia is not focused — just like Lithuania did against the United States. There is a chance of an upset, but the Russians are going to have to help cause their own doom.

USA plays one good half, that’s enough to beat Argentina handily

London Olympics Basketball Men

If the USA can play the next four games like they played the second half against Argentina, they will cruise to a gold medal.

Let’s just forget about the six quarters before that, shall we?

After a sloppy first half of the defensive end and a lot of three point shots, Team USA got it together on both ends in the third quarter to win it 42-17 and cruised from there to a 126-97 win over Argentina. The USA is 5-0 and finishes in first place in Group A.

Their reward is they start the sudden-death medal round against an Australian side they should be able to overwhelm, with the game Wednesday at 5:15 ET (on the NBC Sports Network). Argentina (3-2) finishes third in Group A and will face South American rival Brazil in the first game of the medal round.

The first half just had to be frustrating for Team USA. Because it was for their fans — it did not look like they learned the lessons of the close game against Lithuania two days before.

Team USA hit 7 threes in first quarter, including a Kevin Durant shot at the buzzer, but led only 34-32 because their defense was flat-footed again. All the issues players said they recognized and rectified from the Lithuania game resurfaced — Argentina shot 65 percent in the first quarter, led by Manu Ginobili with 9 (and he was just getting started).

At the half it was 60-59 USA and Ginobili had 16 for Argentina (he would not score in the second half). Just as disturbing for the Americans was Argentina was without Knicks point guard Pablo Prigioni (kidney stones) and Luis Scola had not set foot on the court in the second quarter. The USA was barely beating and Argentina team playing with one hand tied behind their back.

USA shot 9-of-22 from three in the first half — that is not a bad percentage (40.9%) but it shows they could not or would not take the ball inside. The looks from three were often good, very open ones. But still, 22 in a half.

The USA team that came out in the second half looked like the USA side that rolled through its first three games, the one USA fans expect to see. A team that imposed its will (particularly on defense and at the rim) with its superior athleticism.

It started because LeBron James had 9 early third quarter points (on his way to finishing with 18. He set a tone, hitting a three and making a play in the post.

Then the Kevin Durant show started. He had 17 points in the third quarter — as many as the entire Argentinian team in that stretch. He was 8-of-10 from three for the game and finished with 28.

More important, the USA’s hounding defense was back — they weren’t gambling they were harassing. Pressuring. Andre Iguodala was making his presence felt, the USA was controlling the paint and glass.

Pretty soon the USA’s lead was blowing up and Argentina started to take it foot off the gas pedal — they have an older team and were locked into the third seed. They decided to rest not challenge the USA late.

It’s a good bit of momentum, something they can take into the medal round against Australia. That is another team they can overwhelm and build up confidence against. It’s another game they should win handily.

Hopefully that doesn’t lead to bad habits establishing themselves again. Because now things get serious. Now it is lose and go home, and more quarters like the six before the final two against Argentina could spell trouble for the USA.

USA’s defense, outside shooting needs to return vs. Argentina

US forward LeBron James (L), guard Kobe
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Argentina is in some way a better version of the Lithuanian team that gave the USA trouble on Saturday — more talented but with that same experienced veteran savvy that exposed the American’s mistakes.

But that’s really what Monday is about — has the USA learned from its mistakes as it heads to the medal round? Team USA faces Argentina in the final game of Group A play, starting at 5:15 Eastern Monday.

It’s not really about this game for Team USA — Argentina would need to beat the Americans by 110 points to win Group A. Team USA is the top seed heading into the medal round. But Argentina can be the two-seed with a win (beating out France because the tie breaker is total point differential and they are 65 points ahead in that category).

Argentina will be the more desperate side, but still it’s not about Argentina. It’s about team USA. It’s about them executing better, particularly on defense. It’s about them playing as one.

“We played a couple of games where we were able to jump all over the passing lanes and a little bit of bad habits creep in,” Tyson Chandler told ProBasketballTalk. “And then you play a game like Lithuania and those bad habits are exposed. But the great thing is they are exposed and we came away with a win. It was a learning thing for us. Now we go out and make the adjustments.”

Team USA had that same kind of game against Argentina in a tune-up to the Olympics. To open the game Kevin Durant was knocking down threes (he finished with 27 points) and Team USA started out 7-of-7 from the field. The USA had 13 fast break points in the first half. They overwhelmed Argentina and had a double-digit lead minutes into the game.

But Argentina kept moving the ball and stuck with their game plan to grind the game down to a crawl. It worked. They got back on defense to take away the easy fast break points that fuels Team USA. Argentina packed the paint on defense, went under picks and dared the USA to shoot jumpers. The Americans shot better than they did against Lithuania (31 percent on Saturday, nearly 39 percent against Argentina) but it wasn’t enough.
The USA would make a run, Argentina would grind it down — all the way down to a four-point USA lead inside of three minutes left in the game.

No team has knocked off the USA yet and no team will without some help from the Americans. They have to be off on defense and missing their outside shots.

But the formula to beat the USA is out there and Argentina will be the latest to use it. We’ll see if the Americans have learned their lessons from Lithuania about how to avoid it.

Tyson Chandler says USA going to break bad habits Lithuania exposed

Chandler of the U.S. blocks the shot of Nigeria's Diogu during their men's preliminary round Group A basketball match at the Basketball Arena during the London 2012 Olympic Games
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There were back cuts. There was poor transition defense. There were American defenders giving up position to gamble for a steal and being exposed.

There were a few reasons Team USA struggled with Lithuania on Saturday — ice cold shooting from three is at the top of the list — but for a team that prides itself on defense, Team USA didn’t play it well.

USA starting center Tyson Chandler owned up to that speaking with PBT from the Gillette Lounge in Procter & Gamble Family Home in London. The guy that is out there to help organize and backstop the USA’s defense said that the previous two games caught up to them against Lithuania.

“We had a down night,” Chandler said in an exclusive interview with ProBasketballTalk. “We got beat off the dribble way too much, and our execution was poor defensively, and our communication was poor. So it was one of those nights and we struggled offensively but we got to learn with a victory….

“We want to be able go for steals and do that while still being solid. You don’t want to gamble without reason… We played a couple of games where we were able to jump all over the passing lanes and a little bit of bad habits creep in. And then you play a game like Lithuania and those bad habits are exposed. But the great thing is they are exposed and we came away with a win. It was a learning thing for us. Now we go out and make the adjustments”

Chandler has not been able to backstop the American defense as much as hoped these Olympics (12 minutes per game) because Coach J has gone small a lot and because of foul trouble at times. Foul trouble in part because  FIBA officiating is… inconsistent. That’s a word we can use on a family blog. Inconsistent.

“It’s an adjustment, you adjust every game. You learn game by game, you just have to adjust…” Chandler said diplomatically of the officiating. “An athletes job is to try to adjust to the way the game is being called. It’s very important that while we are on the floor we keep our composure and that we represent our country in the correct fashion. Because it’s not just the image we put off for ourselves, it’s about representing our country.”

Chandler spoke a lot about representing his country and how much that mattered to him. Composure on the court and acting like grown men is certainly part of that. But the other part is winning.

Lithuania was just the first of some real tests for the USA coming up, starting with Argentina on Monday.

“We understand we are into the thick of things now, it really begins now,” Chandler said. “Argentina is going to be a tough game and after that it’s the medal round, so things are going to pick up and get more intense. This is what we have all been waiting for.”

Is there a pressure on the team to win gold? Heck yes. Anything short will be viewed as a failure. But Chandler tries not to look at it that way.

“You don’t feel the pressure to go out and win a gold or something like that, you feel the pressure to go out and represent your country in the correct fashion… We also know we have the ability to inspire the next generation. We’ve seen how the game of basketball has evolved since the 1992 Olympics when the dream team was assembled… a lot of the kids who were inspired by that are in our league today.”

Chandler also talked about wanting to inspire his young children. He was hanging out in the Procter & Gamble Family Home, on the day they were celebrating Olympic dads (which you can like on Facebook).

“We’re enjoying the festivities, and I’m looking forward to 10 years from now being able to break back out the footage and sharing with them what all of this meant,” Chandler said.

Especially if he can also break out a gold medal to show them.

Lithuania gives USA a real test, but LeBron passes it in 99-94 win

James of the U.S. goes in for a lay-up past Lithuania's Kleiza during their men's preliminary round Group A basketball match at the Basketball Arena during the London 2012 Olympic Games

There is a script for beating the USA, we talked about it before the Olympics: Pack the paint on defense and hope they miss threes, play good transition defense, don’t turn the ball over, and have a hot shooting night yourself.

Lithuania did almost all of that, playing their best game of the Olympics by far.

But there is no script for stopping LeBron James.

With the USA down USA 84-82 in the fourth, LeBron scored 9 of the USA’s final 17 points to lead the USA to a hard-fought 99-94 win. A win that keeps them undefeated (4-0) in Group A play and headed to the medal round.

For three and a half games LeBron had been a facilitator, a guy doing all the little things for Team USA. But when it was on the line for real LeBron reminded everyone he was the best player on the face of the earth. In the final minutes he hit a key three, threw down a dunk in transition, backed his man down in the paint and put up a pretty spin move — seven key, fast points that changed the tide of the game. He was clutch. He was everything his detractors said he wasn’t a year ago.

The USA coaching staff and players will spin this game as “it was good for us to be tested in group play, it helps us going forward.” I’m not totally on board with that. It might remind them they need to be focused every game, but Lithuania (and every team the USA plays from here on out) is good and if you let them get a foot in the door they will make it a game. A real game. The playground of the Nigeria game is long gone.

It was close because Lithuania played smart, played to the script and flat out executed against the USA better than they have all tournament.

On defense they switched every pick then the big man would slide back a step and dare the USA ball handler to shoot the three. The USA took the bait, especially in the first half, turning that big-on-small into isolation basketball and then settling for jumpers. In the first half the USA was 6-of-19 from three (31.7 percent) and shot 47.6 percent overall.

For the game, the USA was 10-of-33 from three (30.3 percent) and for the game shot 44.3 percent.

When the shots weren’t falling they adjusted in the second half and worked hard, making the extra pass and attacking the paint. It worked, the Americans drew fouls, but the USA was just 19-of-31 from the free throw line (61.3 percent). Kevin Love could not find his stroke, he was 3-of-8 from the stripe.

The USA is supposed to cover its off offensive nights with good defense, but they didn’t for much of this contest.

The USA did a terrible job on transition defense, allowing a slower Lithuanian team to get good looks pushing the ball. The USA also did a poor job switching — or whatever it was they were trying to do — on the pick and roll, allowing former NBA point guard Sarunas Jasikevicius to carve them up. Linas Kleiza had 25 points and outplayed the USA in the paint for much of the game.

And it was a game. Lithuania’s Achilles heel turned out to be turnovers — they had 23 of them. They struggled to enter the ball into the post late in the game, they made some unwise passes that led to USA fast breaks. It was a key difference.

LeBron James had 20 points for Team USA, along with Carmelo Anthony who also had 20. Kevin Durant had 16.

So the USA will spin this as “a wake up call” or some such thing, but in a short Olympic tournament (8 games at most) you shouldn’t need one.

What this shows is that when the outside shots are not falling, and when their pressure defense takes a night off or doesn’t work on experienced guards, the USA is vulnerable.

But despite all that the Americans may still win, because at the end of the day they still have the best player in the world on their team. And probably the next five or six on that list as well.