Australia had executed a flawless game plan in the first 25 minutes, a stunning achievement for a program bereft of game-changing athletes or interior intimidation, when a three-point deficit turned into a three-point exhibition and a 33-point shellacking.
The final tally—119-86—was not indicative of the underdogs’ effort for most of the contest.
The best all-around Aussie NBA import, Andrew Bogut, missed another international tournament because of an ankle injury. San Antonio Spurs assistant Brett Brown, then, steered his resourceful squad to the knockout round by demanding active defense, smart clock management and explosive scoring bursts from undersized but never unassertive guard Patty Mills.
The Lithuanians supplied false hope in a 99-94 loss Saturday, not a blueprint for the Boomers.
In the quest to find a suitable nickname this 2012 USA edition, take a cue from the rout of Australia and call the scorching gold medal favorites the Mean Team.
Brown’s unit had the far superior opponents launching three-pointers in pursuit of a U.S. Olympic record for the second time in a week. The Aussies limited miscues, forced the challengers to jack up an inordinate number of contested jumpers and did a respectable job containing drives and cuts to the rim.
Joe Ingles swished a triple to make it a one-possession game in the third quarter. Kobe Bryant’s response was typical of the Black Mamba: You hit one, now helplessly watch me drill six.
That’s just mean.
Okay, it was worth a shot.
The Americans’ nickname or lack thereof never mattered Wednesday. A barrage of long distance connections that scalded the rims, however, did.
No 2011-2012 NBA team averaged more made threes per game than the Orlando Magic’s 10. Bryant and company said, “Screw that,” and drilled 19 treys.
They beat the latest highest average in the best basketball league in the planet by nine. Good luck overcoming that, rest of the world.
FIBA and the IOC do not hand out medals for almost beating a juggernaut. Linas Kleiza afforded Lithuania one of its two fourth-quarter leads in Saturday’s tight affair with a three-pointer.
Kestutis Kemzura’s squad had coaxed Team USA into a trigger-happy spell from downtown. Yet even forcing the Americans into the sort of one-on-one, isolation-heavy attack that proved disastrous in Athens was not enough. LeBron James answered in the group play finale with a crunch-time clinic that made the size of the Barack Obama administration’s bailouts look like small bags of peanuts.
Brown experienced similar frustration Wednesday when the United States attempted more than 40 threes but rode the kind of second-half shooting streak reserved for cheat mode in a video game.
It doesn’t matter what anyone calls Mike Krzyzewski’s bunch. Even with tougher tests still to come, no opposing coach can like his chances of pulling off an upset.
Not when the lone executable game plan backfires in such a devastating fashion.
There is one method, one route to shocking the Americans.
The Boomers mimicked Lithuania for three quarters and kept the score within reach, until Bryant’s three-point onslaught caused all hell to break lose.
James recorded the first triple-double for a U.S. men’s player in Olympic history, and Kevin Love was relentless in the paint and on the boards.
The real lesson of this inevitable long distance bloodbath was evident long before tipoff. There was no way Australia could keep pace from the perimeter with a stacked foe that possessed so many streaky bombers.
Bryant ignited the game’s defining run, but Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and others punctuated the unmistakable message each time they drained a shot from beyond the arc.
You dare to dare us to hoist threes?
Mills erupted for 10 first-quarter points, ending the period with a determined drive that resulted in a twisting layup. A Brad Newley three-point play here, an Aleks Maric basket there and the occasional David Andersen post-up kept Brown’s team within sniffing distance.
That is, until the Black Mamba awoke from his tournament-long slumber and poured in 20 second-half points. James was a maestro conducting Team USA’s offense when it faced the pressure to create separation.
The Boomers crashed when they could no longer offer resistance, when the impact of Bryant’s sniper-like shooting binge became too much to overcome.
Brown, a respected Gregg Popovich assistant, distinguished himself as a head coach in these Olympics, matched only by Russia’s David Blatt.
Krzyzewski brought an unrivaled collection of talent with him to London. Argentina’s Julio Lamas and Spain’s Sergio Scariolo coach once-in-generation international stars, and a few of those mainstays can look forward to Springfield enshrinements.
Australia’s roster, long on resolve but short on consistent difference makers, pushed Team USA with the same brand of brainy ball that allowed it to win three consecutive pool games after dropping its first two to Brazil and Spain.
Brown devised an admirable scheme and brought out the best in his players.
All that did when it counted was bring out the snarl in Bryant.
Saturday’s squeaker against Lithuania wasn’t a blueprint for the globe to copy. The Americans had to find the escape hatch later than Krzyzewski would have preferred, but they survived, just as they will the remainder of this competition.
The Boomers had all but run out of bullets when Team USA was just loading up. Argentina will schlep more impressive artillery and weaponry to the next battle in the semifinals, but as the Aussies learned Wednesday, if the opponent doesn’t die after the first shot, the Americans will keep firing until it does.
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