Before Team USA took the court to start the third quarter of Monday's final preliminary contest, there was an eerie uncertainty looming over this group of young, immensely talented athletes that had been absent ever since the debacle that took place in 2004. Coming off a mere five-point victory against Lithuania, the team was leading international rival Argentina by just one point at halftime. For the first time in this tournament, Team USA looked vulnerable.
The remainder of the game played out as most expected. Team USA's three-point shooting came alive in a big way to start the third quarter, as Kevin Durant had five triples to lead the way. Furthermore, LeBron James started to get himself further involved in the offense as the game progressed. He would finish with 18 points and five assists.
However, the gaudy statistics that Team USA posted against Argentina in the second half are now afterthoughts in the minds of the rest of the Olympic field. Although every team understands that Team USA is by far the most talented, athletic team in the tournament, it has shown it is beatable.
Just because nobody has beaten Team USA yet does not mean it's impossible. In the NBA, good basketball teams lose to bad basketball teams almost on a nightly basis. All it takes is for a few key players to have an off-night.
Obviously, it's unlikely that Team USA is upended in their quest for a gold medal. However, if it were going to happen, these are methods that any respective squad would need to employ.
Lithuania has gotten the closest of anyone to beating Team USA. Coincidentally, it is the only team to have out-rebounded the Americans during this tournament. On the defensive side of the ball, Lithuania out-rebounded Team USA 36-24, which helped limit second-chance points off the glass.
However, the key to beating the Americans could be winning the offensive rebound statistic, which no team has been able to accomplish yet. In fact, in games against Lithuania and Argentina, Team USA had more than twice as many offensive boards as their opposition.
Not only do offensive rebounds give the opportunity for second-chance baskets, but they re-set the shot clock, which allows Team USA's opposition to slow the pace of the game. This would help prevent easy fast-break baskets in transition from the elite American ball-handlers.
Although the 24-second shot clock prevents teams from slowing the pace of the game to a crawl against Team USA, that doesn't mean anybody should be running a "seven seconds or less" style of offense either.
To hang with the Americans, it's important to dictate a half-court style of play for the duration of the game. As we have seen throughout these Olympics, Team USA's athleticism in the open court is devastating for its opposition. With guys like Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams coming off the bench to push the pace, there is no team that can consistently run with the Americans and win.
If an opposing team starts getting into a run-and-gun, track-meet style of play, the consequences would be dire.
Conversely, as we saw Manu Ginobili do during the first half on Monday night, using the shot clock to create high percentage shots can keep a team competitive with the Americans. The game got out of hand when Ginobili and Carlos Delfino began to push the ball in the open court, taking quick shots that didn't fall.
Because Argentina stopped using the shot clock, Team USA's unbelievable depth allowed them to massacre their opponent in transition, which proved to be the difference in the game.
In short, Team USA is more athletic that anybody it will play. The only way to neutralize that advantage is to keep the ball in your half of the court for as long as possible, while not allowing any fast-break opportunities.
Not surprisingly, Team USA has won the turnover battle in every game of this tournament. In a five-point victory against Lithuania, the Americans boasted a +14 turnover differential, which was the difference between winning and losing. On the same note, the Americans had a +8 turnover differential against Argentina.
Causing turnovers and running in the open court have been the cornerstone of Team USA's strategy for the entire tournament.
When coach Mike Krzyzewski goes with some of his smaller lineups, it's almost impossible to avoid a few forced turnovers. The quick, disruptive play of Teams USA's perimeter defenders is going to naturally cause trouble for the opposition.
However, it's imperative to not do the Americans any favors either. Although no team can match Team USA's guard play, there are other good ball-handlers who are capable of generating offensive production on any given night.
Leandro Barbosa, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker all have NBA experience. For their respective teams to have a chance to stay competitive with the Americans, they must be able to protect the ball and find a way to start their offenses as close to the basket as possible.
No opposition will have the ability to recover from an astronomical turnover margin in Team USA's favor. If any team does have a chance to dethrone the Americans, turnovers must be limited.
Argentina only played 20 minutes. France only played 20 minutes. The only squad to give themselves a chance to beat Team USA was Lithuania, which kept its focus for a full 40-minute game.
There is no room for error against the Americans. Every decision, every play and every shot must be executed with precision and determination. Over the course of a game, Team USA's immense pressure in the front court can fluster opposing guards, which can dramatically change the style and pace of play.
If any team can find a way to sustain their style and tempo for the duration of the contest, they will have a chance to win. While we saw Argentina and Lithuania do this for varying periods of time, neither was able to hold off LeBron James and Kevin Durant from taking over down the stretch.
To beat the Americans, teams must avoid letting them go on those quick 10-2 runs that we have consistently seen from them throughout this tournament. The first team that can avoid this may be the first team to knock off this particular group of superstars.
With the deep, immensely talented roster that USA Basketball has put together, there is almost no chance that Team USA ever completely has an off night.
If Kevin Durant's shots aren't falling, Carmelo's will be. If Chris Paul can't defend an opposing guard, Deron Williams can take over. If LeBron is having trouble getting to the basket, he'll just pass it to Kobe. There is too much talent on this roster for it to ever just go completely lame throughout an entire contest.
However, that's not to say that Team USA has not given its opponents opportunities in the past. It may only be for a half, or a quarter, or maybe even just five minutes. But on several occasions, the Americans have lost their focus and allowed games to get closer than they probably should have been. It's imperative that when this happens, opposing teams capitalize in a big way.
Obviously, executing these steps are way easier said than done. However, for Team USA to be beaten, somebody is going to have to put forth a heroic effort.
Some team, somewhere, is going to have to perform like nobody thought it was capable of. While it's clearly unlikely anybody actually puts this all together to come up with a victory, crazier things have happened in sports.