With outside shot missing, USA relies on defense, transition to beat Brazil

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Well, that wasn’t pretty.

Sure team USA beat Brazil 80-69 in an exhibition of two Olympics-bound squads front of president Barack Obama and a packed house in Washington D.C., but Brazil provided a real test for the Americans and the result was some vulnerabilities showing for Team USA.

The problem was the United States could not get its outside shot to fall. The Americans started the game 0-for-9 from three and finished 6-of-24 from deep. On the night, the Americans shot just 27 percent on shots outside the paint for the game, according to John Schuhmann of NBA.com.

The USA settled for a lot of jumpers because Brazil rolls out a huge front line with the Wizards’ Nene, the Cavaliers Anderson Varejao and the Spurs Tiago Splitter — active big men who can cut off driving lanes and alter shots. The USA could not get inside to start, and their outside shots stayed out.

The result was Brazil leading 29-21 at one point midway through the second quarter. People were mocking this squad’s debate with the Dream Team at this point, some were saying the squad needed to be humbled and this was it. I think the more direct answer is there are just nights for every team when the shots won’t fall.

But while shooting can take a night off, defense doesn’t. That is supposed to be the USA’s trademark and their pressure defense bailed them out in this game — the United States forced 26 turnovers (nearly one third of all Brazil possessions ended in a turnover), which the United States converted into 19 fast break points. Brazil scored just five points in the second quarter.

“I felt our defense won the game,” USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game. “I thought it was outstanding for three quarters, especially since we didn’t hit shots and we missed a lot of dunks. I liked the mental toughness of our team. We kept reminding them we’re not doing it on offense, don’t let it affect defense. I thought it didn’t.”

The other weapon the USA had — LeBron James.

Playing like he did for Miami in the finals when he had to carry his team for stretches on offense, he was a one-man wrecking crew on his way to 30 points on 20 shots, plus six boards. He attacked ferociously in transition and Brazil had no answer for that. Nobody does.

“We came out and didn’t shoot the ball extremely well,” LeBron said. “It got us down and we let our offense mess with our defense early on. Once we decided we needed to focus on our defense and not our offense we were able to turn the game around. It’s hard when you know you’re not scoring the ball like you know you can but it allowed us to pick up our defense even more and came out strong.”

It wasn’t pretty. But the USA took on a team that has an outside shot at a medal and found a way to win on an off night. They won with defense and transition buckets. Those are positives.

But if the USA plays like that in Barcelona in the coming days against Spain like they did against Brazil, it will not be enough. This team still has some growing to do before it can claim a spot as the best team in the world right now, forget comparing yourself to a team from 20 years ago.