Team USA vs. Tunisia: 7 Lessons Learned from America's Blowout Win in Olympics
Another day, another blowout win for Team USA at the 2012 London Olympics.
This time, the Americans came up with a 110-63 throttling of Tunisia, the Olympic debutantes who ended Angola's streak of Summer Games appearances after taking first at the FIBA Africa Championship.
The story of the game, though, goes well beyond an impressive final score. USA Basketball's latest effort was a mixed bag of three-pointers made and missed, dunks slammed home and conceded and uneven energy across the roster.
Mike Krzyzewski's squad is still the favorite to take home the gold, as well it should be, but clearly remains a work-in-progress. The American men will look to move to 3-0 against Nigeria on Thursday before finishing up play in Group A against international powers Lithuania and Argentina.
In the meantime, let's have a look at some of the takeaways from Team USA's second trouncing of the 30th Olympiad.
Team USA's starting five of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul and Tyson Chandler played less like All-Stars and more like disinterested dolts loafing their way through a meaningless exhibition. At least in the first half.
Coach K pulled his starters en masse with 2:39 left in the first quarter when Tunisia's Mourad El Mabrouk hit a pair of free throws to put the Americans in a 15-12 hole.
Of course, Team USA had little trouble erasing that three-point deficit in the end, but the slow start remained indicative of a squad that still has yet to find the stride it needs to dominate for a full 40 minutes.
In all fairness, four of the five starters played much better after halftime, albeit when the game was already well in hand and likely with the aide of Coach K wearing out his vocal chords.
As for the fifth, Kobe didn't step back onto the court after leaving the game with three fouls in the first half. Nor did he need to, at least against lowly Tunisia. The Americans sport a pool of talent that's far superior to that of anyone else in the Olympic field, particularly in the starting lineup.
But they can't simply expect the rest of the world to roll over like the Tunisians did on Tuesday. If Team USA wants to guarantee another gold medal for itself, it must avoid falling into the slow-starting rut and expecting that the three letters on the front of the jersey—rather than effort and focus from the get-go—will be sufficient.
On the flip side, Team USA's reserves played spectacularly in support of their starting/sleepwalking counterparts. The five-man unit of Deron Williams, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and Andre Iguodala went on a 12-0 run between the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second.
It wasn't that the second unit went on such a run so much as how they did it that should encourage Coach K. Rather than idling on defense and settling for perimeter shots on offense, the subs hustled on both ends of the court—chasing after loose balls, forcing turnovers and attacking the basket as the first and second options.
When Coach K switched that group out, the Tunisians were able to narrow the gap thanks to a 7-of-16 shooting performance from three in the first half.
And when he put his second unit back on the floor to start the third quarter, Team USA ripped off 10 straight points to extend the lead to 23 and ultimately outscore Tunisia by a margin of 39-14 in the period.
This isn't all to suggest that Coach K should reverse the current roles so much as to applaud the bench for its collective effort and point out that the entire team should play with the sort of energy and intensity it is capable of bringing.
Carmelo Hearts International Basketball
Leading the way for the subs was Carmelo Anthony. The much-maligned star for the New York Knicks scored a team-high 16 points on a perfect 6-of-6 shooting from the field (2-of-2 from the line) in just 12 minutes of action.
His hot shooting helped the Americans to separate themselves from Tunisia after the sluggish start. 'Melo's performance and impact on this game was remarkably similar to his output in Team USA's final Olympic tune-up against Spain, when he scored 27 points (23 in the first half) to spark a 22-point victory.
Both showings were indicative of how well-suited Anthony's strengths and weaknesses are to the USA Basketball concept. As Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports pointed out after the win over Spain, playing with a star-studded Team USA allows 'Melo to showcase his abilities as a pure scorer without having to share the burden of leadership, which the likes of Kobe, LeBron and Chris Paul already have under control.
And while that may be anything but flattering to Anthony, it's of little concern to USA Basketball. After all, Coach K needs 'Melo to score. And if that's all he does, then so be it. His ability to play inside out on the offensive end makes him a valuable commodity amongst the Americans and an absolute matchup nightmare for the rest of the world.
2 > 3
Part of what made 'Melo and the bench so effective—and, in turn, helped Team USA to put the FIBA Africa champs away—was a noticeable shift toward attacking the basket and taking easy shots.
The Americans have demonstrated a tendency to fall in love with the shorter international three at times, much to their own detriment. They've yet to hit a shot from distance in either of their first quarters at the Olympics so far, and have come out of the initial 10 minutes with their opponent still within sneezing distance as a result.
That all changed, though, once Team USA stopped settling for lazy jumpers and learned to love using its superior athleticism to get to the rim. All told, the Americans shot a whopping 73 percent on two-pointers while limiting the Tunisians to 35.9 percent from inside the arc.
Once the Yanks got used to driving into the paint, the outside shots started to fall. In fact, Team USA hit 10-of-17 from beyond the arc after the first quarter, with most of its attempts coming on shots taken in rhythm off drive-and-kicks and/or in transition.
Team USA may lack the traditional interior presence on offense, but is still at its best when it does its work from the inside out.
Anthony Davis Can Jump High...and Has a Tunisian Twin
So apparently, this Anthony Davis kid is pretty good, or at least has the hops to be.
The rookie out of Kentucky made that much clear after he came on late in the third, ooping home a series of alleys in impressive fashion on the way to a 12-point outburst off the end of the bench.
All told, The Brow hit all five of his shots from the field (and both of his free throws), snatched three rebounds and added a steal and block for good measure.
He still looked a bit frail at times against some of Tunisia's older, bulkier bigs, but clearly wasn't intimidated by the opponent or the stage. Coach K may need Davis to play meaningful minutes at some point down the line against some of the bigger, stronger teams in London.
And, judging from Davis' recent play, Krzyzewski should have no hesitation if/when he feels the need to go to the well. Oh, and it turns out that Davis isn't the only Olympian with an uninterrupted 'brow (h/t Trey Kerby):
Tunisian Anthony Davis:twitpic.com/adzug1— Taco Trey Kerby (@treykerby) July 31, 2012
Kobe's Cred Isn't Dependent on His Production
Kobe's on-court role may not be what it once was, but that hardly diminishes his importance to Team USA.
To be sure, the Black Mamba is (for the most part) simply a symbol of America's basketball prowess—a 33-year-old elder statesman who starts but doesn't play heavy minutes for Coach K. And, truth be told, Team USA would've survived just fine without his four points in nine minutes.
But, in the grand scheme of things, Kobe's leadership and status as a global icon are crucial to and indicative of America's pre-eminence on the hardwood. At no point was this more evident than when Mohamed Hdidane, who scored 11 points off the bench for Tunisia, had Kobe autograph his shoe immediately after the match (h/t B/R crew):
Kobe Bryant giving autographs to Team Tunisia after the game twitpic.com/adzxbl— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 31, 2012
The eagerness with which Hdidane approached the Black Mamba was reminiscent of how the rest of the world anxiously awaited photo-ops with the '92 Dream Team and served a reminder to NBA commissioner David Stern and his consortium of owners—who are pushing to institute an age limit for the Summer Games—as to why, for the good of the game, veteran superstars like Kobe should be allowed to represent the Stars and Stripes at the Olympics.
Team USA: Still the One
Which brings us to the most important takeaway from the Tunisia game—that, for all of its injuries and supposed weaknesses, Team USA is still really, really good.
Or, at least good enough to bring home the gold, and perhaps good enough to do so in more impressive fashion than the 2008 edition did in Beijing.
Of course, there's still plenty of room for improvement and, in turn, no shortage of cracks in the pavement that better opponents can exploit down the road. This version of Team USA has yet to string together a full 40-minute effort and has shown itself to be far too willing to lazily fire away from the perimeter.
But there's still time for the US to get its act together before the going gets tough. Each of the opponents in the upcoming Nigeria-Lithuania-Argentina slate present a different challenge for the Yanks and, therein, another opportunity to gel as a unit.
Even if the Americans don't figure everything out, they're still so formidable in so many ways that the rest of the field shouldn't stand a chance.
Emphasis on "shouldn't."