Well, it would seem that Team USA is not indomitable after all, eking out a "victory" over Lithuania, 99-94. And a near-loss happened roughly the way I've been warning that it could (I'm no psychic, I certainly did not expect problems versus Lithuania specifically).
When you shoot a lot of threes, you open yourself up to risk. High three-point shooting leads to volatile results, as it's a shot that is less likely to go in, but more likely to yield points.
Three-point volatility is fine in a playoff series. If your team goes cold and misses a bunch of treys, you can suffer a loss or two. The 2011 Dallas Mavericks were built around hitting the three and it worked out fine for them. Over the course of a seven-game series, the long ball pays.
In a tournament that goes down to single elimination? This could be an issue. Just one cold shooting night can end it all.
Team USA shot an astounding 33 threes against Lithuania, making 30.3 percent of the tries. This was a mediocre result, but it could have been worse. What if it had shot closer to 20 percent? What if its opponent was hitting a bunch from deep (Lithuania only shot 16 triples, making seven).
This is America's Achilles' heel. It is reliant, by choice, on a volatile shot. Most nights, it will turn out fine for the Americans. Up until this game, they had been nailing 49 percent of the jumpers. But an off night can end in humiliation and recriminations.
There were other factors in America's near-loss. It shot uncharacteristically poorly from the free-throw line, with Kevin Love going 3-of-8. At least K-Love acknowledged as much on Twitter:
Shaq on the free throw line today!!! My bad USA. Good win for us. Needed a game like that. On to the next.— Kevin Love (@kevinlove) August 4, 2012
The defense allowed penetration, ceding 25 points to Linas Kleiza. Team USA can impress on D with its collective athleticism, but this is a hastily thrown-together project. A defense needs time for players to truly know their roles.
Despite the incredible physical advantage Team USA possesses, it will be susceptible to better-organized squads.
And America will be especially vulnerable if it stays so three-point-reliant. Lithuania is not the creme of the crop. Russia is significantly better, as is Spain.
It's possible that America can shoot itself into a hole that LeBron James won't be able to pull it out of again. It may not be probable, but a deep-shooting team's success is far from assured.
Team USA must tread carefully, chuck less, drive more.
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