Quick thoughts and analysis gleaned from Team USA’s 100-78 win over Spain, FIBA’s number two ranked team in the world and the biggest threat to the Americans’ quest for Gold come August.
- All exhibitions should be taken with a grain of salt, but this one – between the two presumptive Gold Medal favorites – even more than most. Spain got off to very nice start in this game with its core players on the floor, frustrating the U.S. with quick ball movement. Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka were especially key during this run, taking advantage of their size and comfort as true posts to confuse LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. The two of them were on the floor together sparingly the rest of the game, and not coincidentally the Americans made their initial run when Gasol subbed out for the first time. Combine that with Marc Gasol’s absence and Spain’s lack of fire and tact in general, and a potential matchup for Olympic glory will prove far different even if the outcome’s the same.
- Anthony, despite getting lost on switches occasionally and having a hard time fronting the post, was fantastic on both ends. He scored 23 points in the first half alone on a litany of smooth three-pointers and pull-up jumpers, looking the most comfortable and aggressive American. He let the game come to him as a scorer just as he always should, capitalizing on opportunity after opportunity gleaned from penetration by LeBron James, Chris Paul, and the like. Anthony was as engaged defensively and on the boards as ever, too, showing well on pick-and-rolls and playing the physical style he needs to as a small-ball 4. Great performance, and hopefully a sign of things to come.
- Having said that, the overall brilliance of James was just as instrumental to the USA win as the play of Anthony. He scored just seven points in the first half and wasn’t aggressive looking for his shot, but doled out six assists and played awesome post defense on Gasol and Ibaka. He made precise rotations between Spain’s bigs and kept the ball from them by fronting the post with the same aplomb he did to Anthony and Kevin Durant during Miami’s playoff run. He got his hands on the ball in passing lanes often, too, initiating the always deadly US transition attack. By the time LeBron got going offensively in the fourth quarter the game was out of reach, but he’d nonetheless turned in another understated masterpiece.
- ESPN flashed a graphic that coming into today’s game Team USA was outscored by the opposition 116-115 when their three true bigs – Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love, and Anthony Davis – weren’t on the floor. We opined for Coach K to give extended minutes to Love and even 12th man Davis after his team’s narrow win against Argentina on Sunday, and this stat only furthered our wish. The U.S. got away with it against Spain today due to the younger Gasol’s injury and Spain’s puzzling rotation that saw Pau and Ibaka rarely on the floor simultaneously, but the thought remains – one of those guys should be on the floor at all times if Team USA should met Spain again.
- In that same vein, Krzyzewski went truly big for the first time in this game mid-way through the third quarter with Love and Chandler playing together. This is perhaps a good thought against Spain in the future (assuming Gasols/Ibaka are occupying two post spots), but this group let a sizable lead get cut down and looked lost offensively. Love’s teammates haven’t quite figured out how best to use him, and Chandler is the same liability outside of five feet he’s always been. With James, Durant, and Anthony capable of playing the 4 and giving Team USA unparalleled offensive skill and versatility, it will be tough for the Americans to play this way again.
- Ibaka was awesome for Spain early, scoring 16 points in the first half on several dunks and mid-range jumpers. He was his usual demon of a self on defense, too, challenging every shot and ably defending James away from the basket. He got a little too excited blocking shots, though, on more than one occasion committing goal-tending violations on shots that had little chance of going in. Still, he was every bit as impressive as his OKC teammates today, speaking to just how talented this precocious quartet is.
- It’s obvious but needs to be said again: there’s never been a team like this one with regard to turning pressure defense into transition offense. With Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook hassling ball-handlers into shoddy dribbling and weak passes, James, Durant, and Kobe Bryant have an easy time shooting passing lanes and igniting the break. By that point, of course, it’s all over and the opposition knows it. The Americans didn’t force turnovers in the first quarter and they left it trailing, but led at the half 48-40 nonetheless due to the seven Spain miscues in the second stanza and the dunks they were eventually turned into.