The first quarter was tense.
In the first minute and a half, Jason Kidd picked up 3 fouls, none of them would have been fouls in the NBA.
Enter Chris Paul, and he turned the ball over on his very first pass.
Add bogus foul calls on Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant, (not to mention the fouls that weren’t being called on Greece), and in the first 2 minutes of play, Team USA found themselves with a 5 to 0 foul disparity, a starter on the bench, and two key players having to back off right away on defense because of early fouls.
It really was looking scary, and then no call contact on Kobe Bryant had Kobe wincing and grabbing at his injured finger. Greece clearly had a game plan.
On the first — what appeared to be a time out call, Coach K didn’t even look at his players. Instead, he went at the refs with such energy, players went out to get him and pull him back. Mike D’Antoni looked so angry on the bench that you’d have thought someone just told him Isaiah Thomas was just hired to be the Knicks president again.
Greece was allowed to be so physical, allowed to move on screens, shove USA players as they jumped to rebound and shoot, and allowed unlimited time camping in the key. In fact, I thought they were starting a homestead there in the blue paint.
We knew Greece would come with some surprises for USA though, and they did. They added a twist to their their pick and roll offense: they ran multiple picks off the ball while running their pick and roll at the same time.
The result of their offense was to create and exploit mismatches with USA’s man to man defense, but also they used this very picky offense to create deep entry passes to the post. And it was successful. Greece got many great looks and were scoring inside, especially against Dwight Howard.
Then Chris Paul started doing what I’ve always hated until today: he threw his body into the body of bigger players and started collecting fouls on Greece. I’m sure Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s outburst helped the refs see the contact as well, so it was good timing for Chris to start this.
When Kobe missed his first 3 point attempt, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade entered the game.
Dwayne Wade didn’t start off well. He failed to block out the free throw shooter and Greece scored two points on a missed free throw. That was pretty much Wade’s last mistake though. Immediately Dwayne made his presence known by impressively out working Greece (and all Americans) for a rebound.
Oops! I’ve got to go bring my daughter somewhere. I’ll finish this later, stay tuned.
Okay, I’m back.
I’m not sure what the best combination of players was against Greece. Williams and Paul played a lot together, and Kobe played small forward in some groups and shooting guard with others. I had to laugh when Kobe would knock the ball off the rim! He’s quickly adapting to international play, except for the 3 point arc I guess.
The second quarter was the breakout quarter for TeamUSA. When Greece beat USA 2 years ago in Japan, Greece had 11 turnovers the whole game. Today Greece had 11 turnovers with 2:04 left to go in the first half. That gave USA opportunities to run and speed up the pace.
However, USA didn’t need a rebound or a turnover to run. In the 2nd quarter, USA pulled out an offense we haven’t seen yet this Olympics: Mike D’Antoni‘s runnin’ Suns offense. Taking advantage of their extraordinary depth, TeamUSA exploited Greece’s 2nd quarter legs by running off of made baskets, the way the Phoenix Suns have been doing the last few years. Even if USA didn’t score on early offense, it gave them more time to set something up in half court.
And Greece couldn’t handle the pace. Greece scored 16 points in both the first and second quarters, but gave up 20 points the first quarter, and 31 points in the 2nd quarter, which USA played at D’Antoni pace.
The rap on Greece is they get discouraged and don’t play as well from behind, but that wasn’t the case this game. After their disastrous 2nd quarter, they increased their scoring in the third quarter (from 16 to 22), and decreased USA’s 3rd quarter production (from 31 to 23). Greece did go flat in the 4th quarter though, eeking out only 15 points, but then again USA only scored 18.
There were some surprises.
– Rebounding was dead even: 38 to 38. Guards grabbed 15 of those 38 rebounds for USA. The bigs improved slightly over their rebounding performance against Angola, but not enough yet. Carlos Boozer had zero rebounds, but he was severely outsized, playing center for the most part.
– Then again, Jason Kidd grabbed 3 rebounds in only 7 minutes of playing. Boozer can and should do better on the boards.
– Kobe, shooting poorly from outside, backed up to about where the NBA line was and tried shooting 3s from out there. I wouldn’t have done it, or advised him to, but it worked. Kobe shot the longer 3 better.
– LeBron played the most minutes, followed by Chris Paul, then Deron Williams and Kobe Bryant.
– Dwight Howard had 2 points in 12 minutes. Chris Bosh had 18 points in 21 minutes. Bosh was BRILLIANT on both ends of the court.
– Greece used picks to make mismatches out of USA’s man to man defense, then tried to exploit the mismatches, but Chris Bosh thwarted them nearly every time. Time and again, a quick guard would drag Bosh out to the top of the key, and I’d think, “Uh oh, Bosh is going to foul or this guy is going to get a lay up,” but Bosh’s hands were quicker than a John Edwards lie, and he deflected, stole and blocked the ballhandler again and again. What started out as a probably 2 to 3 points for Greece became an easy transition basket for USA because of Bosh. He was the player of the game.
– Dwayne Wade was a player of the game as well. As I mentioned, Wade came into the game during a Greecian free throw, was the only USA player to line up in the lane nearer the shooter, and Wade ran to the rim for a rebound rather than blocking out the shooter, giving Greece an easy lay up instead of a missed free throw. That was about Wade’s only mistake though. Dwayne Wade had 6 steals, 5 assists and 17 points.
– I take that back. Wade sucked from the free throw line, shooting 5 of 9 for 44.4 percent. Team USA overall shot 13 of 23 from the line, for 56.5 percent. Most high school teams shoot free throws better than that.
– Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony were by far the worst shooters in this game, both shooting 33%.
– Wade, Boozer, Bosh, Bryant, James and Redd all shot 50% or better.
– LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard account for 12 of the 16 turnovers for TeamUSA.
– The International Olympic Committee, if they don’t do something about the officiating, owes the French skating judges a big apology.
What impressed me most about this win was that the team Greece fielded today was definitely BETTER than the team that beat USA 2 years ago. They have grown as players and as a team.
TeamUSA just grew more. And yes, Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd were a strong positive factor in today’s win, but Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade were even more of a factor today. These two aren’t the only U.S. players to improve over the last 2 years, and the team as a team is better as well.It’s working. Team USA’s management is doing it right.
In 2004, Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury were USA’s backcourt. In 2006, Kirk Hinrich and Joe Johnson were the back court. Finally now, Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd, Dwayne Wade, Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Michael Redd make up our back court. Talented guards, yes, but solid men and team players as well.
The current leaders of TeamUSA have done the right thing selecting THESE guys, making them commit the way they have, and making them work they way they are. This isn’t all all-star exhibition, this is a team.
It is working.
An improved Greek squad was downed by a more improved USA team.