USA thumps Angola 121-66, now things get challenging

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Thumbnail image for Gay_dunk_USA.jpgFor one quarter, the USA looked like the focused, efficient, powerful team we expect them to be.

And that’s all they needed on Labor Day, one quarter of labor. The USA was up 20 in the first quarter, knocked down 18 three pointers for the game and defeated an outmatched Angola team 121-66 in the round of 16 at the FIBA World Championships.

It was that easy. It won’t be that easy from here on out.

Angola played a sagging style of man-to-man defense that constantly left USA shooters open — a strategy the USA will see variations of going forward against zone defenses. Chauncey Billups knocked down a three to start the game but the USA missed their next four jumpers. Angola got back in transition defense at first and it was close for almost three minutes.

Then Kevin Durant attacked the rim a couple times, things opened up and the shots started to fall. The USA shot 47 percent from three for the game, which has to give pause to those teams which would have Team USA shoot jumpers. It may still be the best strategy, but Team USA has guys who can knock down shots.

The USA also started getting the turnovers they need and running midway through the first and they had 14 first quarter fast break points. Really the game was a runaway from early on. Billups led the USA with 19 points including 5 of 7 from beyond the arc, followed by Durant, Rudy Gay and Eric Gordon (5 of 6 from deep) all with 17. Derrick Rose also showcased that jumper he has been working on this summer going 3 of 4 from three.

That Gay did so well is a good sign after he missed a practice with a strained groin. He is clearly back and ready to run.

We could nitpick that the USA’s defensive intensity let up at points, that some bad habits from previous games crept back in. But why? The USA looked good when they had to and if they got a little sloppy at times in a 55 point win I can live with that.

But the times the USA can play one quarter and win are over. Things are about to get a lot tougher.

Next up for USA is winner of the Russian/New Zealand game. So most likely Russia, which brings a much longer front line — 6’11” Sasha Kaun formerly of Kansas and newly-signed Knick center Timofey Mozgov — to the party. Russia also plays a much tougher match-up zone that may give the USA some issues and fewer wide-open looks than they got against Angola.

If the USA gets past Russia on Thursday, they will likely play Argentina next, followed by either Spain or Turkey in the gold medal game.

The easy romps are over for the USA. They are going to have to earn their wins from here on out. If Team USA shoots like they did against Angola and play with the intensity they showed in the first quarter, they should be just fine.

Scottie Pippen on LeBron James, Michael Jordan: “It’s not a fair comparison”

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The battle has, stupidly, raged on between supporters of Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Both sides seem to believe their preference is irrefutably the choice for the best player in NBA history.

And because they did not play in the same era, the question will never be answered. No doubt in 50 years they will write columns about Jordan vs. LeBron, just like their fathers, and their father’s fathers before them.

James has certainly seemed to take a bit of a leap in the eyes of the NBA community this season, likely because of his wonderful performance at age 33. He’s also single-handedly won two playoff series this year. It’s been incredible.

But LeBron rising above Jordan has also brought out some more reasonable takes. Former Chicago Bulls legend and Jordan running mate Scottie Pippen spoke up recently about the debate, giving a measured analysis that I think is pretty strong.

In short, Pippen basically said you can’t compare the two because of the eras, the style, and the fact they just don’t play the same position (if LeBron even has a position, that is).

Via Twitter:

That sounds right to me.

Cavaliers’ Kendrick Perkins not into “all that new stuff” like Chewbacca

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Chewbacca was at Game 3 in Cleveland Saturday. Sitting courtside.

Why? Because growing up on Kashyyyk he played a little hoop and admires LeBron James‘ skill? Because Drake gave him the tickets? Maybe. I mean, it’s not like that was just a clever little publicity stunt for a movie.

After the Cavaliers’ win, Kevin Love decided to make a little joke of it with noted humorist Kendrick Perkins, and it went over as well as expected (with Dave McMenamin of ESPN catching it).

That’s vintage Perkins.

Celtics’ Terry Rozier on Game 3: “We needed to get our butts whooped”

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Cleveland dominated Game 3 Saturday night. They played harder, to start. The Cavaliers’ defensive pressure on the ball was better, they were sharper rotating out to shooters and covering passing lanes. Cleveland’s role players stepped up and helped LeBron James.

Boston, meanwhile, wilted in the face of that pressure Saturday, something it has done a few times on the road these playoffs. The Celtics got away from the things that got them to the Eastern Conference Finals. Guard Terry Rozier put it more bluntly, via A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston:

“I feel like we needed this (loss) to get us back … to get us ready for Monday,” Rozier said.

Rozier later added, “We needed to get our butts whipped. Come back to reality and take care of business on Monday.”

Cleveland is a championship team — from LeBron James on down through the core guys, they all have rings. They have been down before, and heading home it was expected they would play with force. Cleveland’s back was against the wall and they responded.

From the Celtics’ perspective, they also got a little too fat and happy and were not ready for what the Cavaliers came with in Game 3.

Now the pressure is on Boston to push back, to get back to their level of execution and do it under pressure. Make the Cavaliers prove the improved defensive effort was not a one-off game. The Celtics must move the ball and play with some pace, then see if the Cavaliers can keep it together in the face of crisp play.

When this series heads back to Boston Wednesday, it will either see the Celtics in control up 3-1, or the series will be a best of three (with the Cavs still having to figure out if they can win on the road). At home, the Cavaliers are going to play with force again and have some depth. We’ll see if Game 3 was enough of a wakeup call for Boston.

PBT Extra: Can Rockets take Game 2 energy, execution on the road?

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Houston found its blueprint to beating Golden State in Game 2: Strong defensive pressure on the ball, quick switches and communication on defense, getting out in transition when possible, and starting sets earlier in the shot clock and attacking downhill with James Harden and Chris Paul.

Now can they do that on the road? Against a more focused and sharper Warriors’ team?

That will be the question in the next two games of the Western Conference Finals, and it’s what I discuss in this latest PBT Extra.