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"It's not about the Xs and Os with Coach Krzyzewski." -NBC color commentator Doug Collins during the medal presentation ceremony for basketball.
In their postgame comments, NBC studio analyst Doc Rivers and color commentator Doug Collins, both of whom coach in the NBA, made the point that coach Mike Krzyzewski isn't as concerned with the intricacies of basketball strategy as he is with how personalities on a team mesh.
I'm assuming both men intended those statements to come across as feel-good truisms illustrating how much Coach K cares about this group of players, but they inadvertently pointed out something much more serious: Team USA's lack of a sound defensive strategy against Spain almost had disastrous consequences for the team's effort to repeat as Olympic champions.
It's no secret that when it comes to coaching the men's national team, Coach K is very hands-off on the offensive side of the ball. He knows his players are very experienced and incredibly knowledgeable, and allows them the freedom to decide how they want to attack opposing defenses.
Coach K is not, however, equally lax about his team's defensive approach. He demands that his team play an uptempo style of defense that utilizes ball pressure to knock opponents out of rhythm.
Against most opponents this is a very sound strategy, because the U.S. team is the most athletic squad in the world and playing pressure defense allows them to leverage their superior athletic talent as a competitive advantage.
But playing Spain is different. Unlike every other team in the tournament, the Spanish team has enough great ball-handlers to withstand the United States' pressure. On Sunday, Spain's perimeter players were not fazed and did not allow the U.S. team to get the steals their transition offense thrives on.
Spain actually turned the U.S. defensive philosophy into a liability. They ran screen-and-roll after screen-and-roll, and while American defenders were caught trying to pressure the ball-handler—a fruitless strategy—the screeners (the Gasol brothers, Serge Ibaka, etc.) kept rolling to the rim for uncontested layups and fouls.
This was a situation where the head coach needed to make an adjustment. Once Spain's three-point shooters cooled off in the second half, I was surprised the U.S. team did not opt to play some zone defense in an attempt to neutralize Gasol and Ibaka.
Coach K didn't even make sure his players knew they had to do a better job guarding the screen-and-roll or picking up he cutter down the lane.
I'm not sure what Team USA was discussing during timeouts—the feelings they share for one another?—but it sure wasn't the Xs and Os of defense.
I love Mike Krzyzewski. He is arguably the greatest basketball coach ever and has played a huge role in rehabilitating USA Basketball after the 2004 debacle in Athens.
But he laid an egg in this game.
It's surprising to see a defensive-minded coach fail to adjust his tactics in the heat of the moment.