USA vs. Spain: You don’t need to know the language to send a message

USA vs. SpainIf you are a fan of USA basketball, this was a great game, but two numbers indicate Team USA wasn’t yet tested where it is weakest: inside. Those two numbers are 28 and 64.

Twenty-eight. Spain committed 28 turnovers versus the United States. For perspective, Spain committed 8 turnovers in their previous game against Greece.

Sixty four. USA shot 7 of 11 (64%) from the arc in the first half. For perspective, that is better than USA’s FREE THROW percentage from their previous game (56.5%).

While those 2 numbers are actually positives, they are also anomalies: unusual occurrences that may not happen again.

Of course, USA had something to do with Spain turning the ball over so much, but then again, Spain’s zone defense had something to do with USA shooting so well from the arc. If you don’t believe that, Spain’s halftime adjustments had USA shooting 4 of 14 for 28.5% in the 2nd half.

Anomalies (a.k.a. “luck”) probably affect many if not most games, but for success to be consistent, it needs to be based on something a team can consistently do.

If Team USA can consistently shoot 64% from the arc, it hasn’t shown it so far. In fact, USA’s second half 3-point shooting performance against Spain, 28.5%, is more consistent with how USA has been shooting 3 pointers in the Olympics.

As for turnovers, remember Australia? Earlier this month (August 5,2008), the Aussies slowed down the pace to limit possessions, and were it not for a flat 2nd quarter, Australia could have upset Team USA. Instead of slowing down the pace though, today Spain tried to play at USA’s pace, and Spain turned over Group B’s leadership to USA. Literally.

I really think USA will earn the gold medal in 2008 Men’s Basketball, but I also think teams have seen enough of how USA plays, where it is strongest and where it is weakest, and that opposing teams will try slowing down the pace and caring for the ball to take away USA’s easy points, and they will try to make USA grind it out from inside.

USA’s last two wins were impressive, but they scored very little with bigs posting up in the half court.

Against Spain, Carmelo Anthony scored 12 of his 16 points from the arc. Tayshaun Prince scored 9 of his 10 points from the arc. LeBron James scored 6 of his 18 points from the arc, and I don’t know how many of the remaining 12 points were scored in transition, but it seemed like a lot, didn’t it? That’s where his highlight plays come from.

But in terms of good old fashioned back to the basket bigs scoring down low on post play in the half court, USA was probably outplayed by Spain. And Team USA was out rebounded again (39 to 36). Can USA’s bigs step up to score inside if opponents are successful at forcing that pace on them? I hope so.

Other observations:

– Less than 2 minutes into the game (1:57 to be exact), Pao Gasol set a screen and Kobe Bryant just leveled him to the floor. Pau smiled, but Kobe walked by Pau without looking at him, much less helping him up or giving Pau a pat, which Bryant did with other Spanish players throughout the game. Commentator Doug Collins said he thought it was a good foul, and Collins was wrong. The only message that foul sent was a message Gasol already knew: that Kobe was more serious about beating Spain than he was about his friendship with Pau. In reality, the only thing that stupid foul did was put Kobe out of the game sooner.

– Team USA was called for 17 fouls in the first half, but as USA took control of the game, refs stopped trying to help Spain and called only 7 fouls against USA in the second half. USA did make adjustments, but it really appeared the the refs did as well.

– Spain’s 17 year old guard, Ricky Rubio, didn’t looked in intimidated in the least by going up against the likes of Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd, Chris Paul and Deron Williams. In fact, he baited a couple of them into fouls.  XPhoneix87 is right when he wrote on that this is a guy to keep an eye out for.

– I was thrilled to hear Doug Collins say that Team USA’s mantra is: No bad habits. That’s the motto I’m yelling during the practice of every team I’ve ever coached. You think Coach K stole it from me? 😉

– It was a 7 point game with 25 seconds left to go in the 1st quarter. Considering the final scores in the Olympics, USA has yet to really dominate a team from the get go. Opponents start off finding success, then USA finds its way and then has its way with its opponents.

– 13 of 16 USA turnovers were James, Bryant, Paul and Wade.

LeBron James and Chis Paul combined to shoot 14 of 14 from the free throw line, substantially helping USA raise their overall free throw percentage. The rest of the team shot 5 of 10 for 50% from the free thrown line. Tch tch tch.

– When asked to expand on Team USA’s strengths, Pau Gasol said: “They are playing with a purpose and that’s to win and to show everyone else that they are superior. And I think that’s the bottom line. It’s not that they are better individually than two years ago, they are better as a team. They have a better mentality.”

– In a post game interview with Craig Sager, Chris Paul made it clear the Team USA wanted to make a statement with this game. Did they? Well, ask Spain’s Pau Gasol.

“They wanted to make a statement in this game, playing against us, and they did,” Pau said. “They sent a message to everybody in the tournament. They didn’t do it before, and now everybody knows that they’re for real, and they’re very serious about this.”

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