5 Secrets Argentina Learned from Lithuania's Toe-to-Toe Game with Team USA
Argentina and Team USA have a long history of international basketball battles. Their latest fight for position came on July 22, 2012, when Argentina nearly upset the United States but fell by a score of 86-80.
A final score that was nearly overcome as Argentina outscored Team USA by a score of 64-55 during the final three quarters.
On August 6, the two teams will hit the court for the second time in roughly two weeks. The teams will be coming off of different buildups, with Argentina falling to France and the U.S. going undefeated. Each have victory on their minds, however, and will be looking to upstage the other entering elimination play.
Fortunately for Argentina, they hold an advantage. Team USA has been exposed by Lithuania and their small margin of victory at 99-94 is evidence of such.
So what has Argentina learned?
Afraid to Step on Toes
Team USA basketball has a surplus of elite talent. Each player on their roster has either a strong set of credentials or a legacy built via significant NBA success. Unfortunately, those very stars haven't the slightest idea as to how they're supposed to play together.
As a result, forced shots and too many extra passes are derailing their offensive rhythm and putting them out of sync defensively.
While greater chemistry will come with the more time, Argentina redefines the term "on the same page." The Argentinians know each other's tendencies from cover to cover and play, arguably, the best team basketball of any International team.
Something that nearly led them to victory the first time they played Team USA in an exhibition game.
At this point, the Americans are far too reliant upon their drive-and-dish tendencies. Their shooters can go cold, which we saw against Argentina, and their interior scoring is too weak to turn to.
2nd Unit Is More Important Than the Starters
Much has been made of the star power on Team USA's roster. From three-time MVP LeBron James to five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant, elite doesn't even begin to describe the top side talent. And that's before we get to reigning Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler, the game's best point guard in Chris Paul and the three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant.
So how are you supposed to stop that?
Believe it or not, teams have. The group that they've had the most trouble with, however, is the second unit consisting of Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Love and Carmelo Anthony. Throw in reigning Sixth Man of the Year James Harden and you can see why.
Lithuania can confirm that if you'd like.
Carmelo Anthony is this team's most dominant scorer. While Kevin Durant may be more consistent, when 'Melo takes over a game, there simply is no comparison. Williams, Westbrook and Iguodala, meanwhile, have provided game-changing energy and defense—something Team USA lacked against Lithuania as Iguodala picked up three fouls in three minutes.
Cut the head off of the second unit and you can beat Team USA.
Team USA Can't Play by the International Rules
This is not to suggest that Team USA is cheating to win, as they are not. Instead, it's an acknowledgement of the fact that the group simply cannot stay out of foul trouble.
Having four key players with three fouls against Lithuania is just the latest example of such.
Due to this fact, the Americans are in for a bit of a struggle. Argentina attacks the basket as well as anyone in International play and the team is notorious for drawing fouls. Team USA should be well-aware of this fact, as Manu Ginobili has made a living doing it in the NBA.
Should Argentina continue to exploit these woes, the Americans may have to bench key players. As a result, the Argentinians could sneak out a "W" that not very many could see coming.
The Speculation Is True
Entering the 2012 London Olympics, one of the popular theories was that the United States' greatest weakness was their interior defense. After Linas Kleiza tore the Americans up for 25 points, it's safe to say that the speculation is true.
This team is not nearly strong enough in the paint.
While we could accredit this failure to Tyson Chandler seeing just eight minutes of playing time, witnessing Team USA without him was quite telling. Kevin Love might as well not be there when his opponent tries to score against him in the paint, and Anthony Davis isn't seeing any playing time. Without Chandler, this team can stop nothing.
Not what you want to hear when you're set to face Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola and Carlos Delfino.
There Is No Balance
For a roster filled with elite depth, Team USA is quite reliant on their top-heavy talent. For evidence, one could cite the fact that just two players coming off of the bench saw more than 14 minutes against Lithuania.
Considering America's second unit is their strongest, that's a recipe for disaster.
With the reserves on the floor, Team USA looked dominant. They took control on defense, attacked on offense and used a smart balance of pressure and patience to maintain a solid pace. With the starters on the floor, that all went to waste.
Shooting a combined 18-of-42 should validate such a claim, especially when your reserves go 17-for-37.
So why is it that Coach K won't play his most efficient group?