USA looks like vintage, dominant self in 28-point rout of Argentina

0 Comments

This is what most fans expect from USA Basketball.

This is also what Team USA expects from itself. The question is can they repeat it?

Team USA used its defense to force turnovers and misses, then ran off those, using their athleticism to overwhelm their opponent. Throw in some made threes and the USA cruised to a 108-80 thrashing of Argentina on Tuesday night in a pre-Olympics exhibition game.

“It was better,” often understated U.S.A. coach Gregg Popovich said.

Popovich is right, it was better. However, a real test of the USA’s progress comes Friday night when they take on Australia again.

After a couple of unimpressive exhibition losses to Nigeria and Australia that raised red flags, this was the kind of easy victory Team USA needed.

A lot of things looked better in this win:

• The USA defense looked much improved (albeit against a team without the talent of Nigeria or Australia). The USA raced out to a 15-4 lead behind its strong defense, allowing the team to get out in transition off misses. That has been the formula for USA Basketball gold medals since 2008 — while other nations have improving skills, they can’t yet match the depth of American athleticism — and this was the first time we saw that in action this exhibition season. Team USA needs to do more of this.

• The American stars stopped hunting fouls and expecting NBA calls — the international game is more physical in general, and defenders are allowed to body and push shooters in a way not seen in the NBA. In the two exhibition losses, Jayson Tatum, Bradley Beal, and other Americans stared down officials after no-calls that they are used to getting in the NBA.

“We have to realize it’s not the NBA. Coach Pop keeps re-emphasizing that every single day,” said Beal, who finished with 17 points. “It’s way more physical. Guys are smarter. These guys have been playing together for five-, 10-plus years. So they have the experience and the chemistry and we’re trying to develop that in a short period of time.”

• The USA ball movement seen in the first half against Australia was back for most of this game, leading to open threes or cutters diving to the rim for clean looks. There were lapses, but overall things looked better.

Kevin Durant had 17 points for Team USA and drained three 3-pointers. Zach LaVine, who got his first Team USA start, added 15. Damian Lillard had 13, and Bam Adebayo played his best game so far and finished with 13 points. He scored early on the roll, got blocks then ran out in transition, and defended Argentinian star Luis Scola well.

• The USA played without Jayson Tatum, who was out with a sore right knee and is listed as day-to-day. Tatum was 4-of-12 shooting and not moving like himself against Australia on Monday night; this explains what was going on.

The next test for Team USA is Friday night against Australia.