Team USA Basketball: Instant Reaction To USA-Spain Scrimmage
Earlier this week, USA coach Mike Krzyzewski rightly acknowledged that today's scrimmage between Team USA and Spain wasn't nearly as important as any game the U.S. team plays in Turkey next week.
"I know how the international game works, and nobody wants to show too much. We beat Spain by over 30 points in pool play [in Beijing], but in the gold-medal game, we were up by just two points with eight minutes to go," Krzyzewski told ESPN's Chris Sheridan.
With that said, Coach K didn't completely downplay the importance of the scrimmage against Spain—he noted that this team still needs to develop the consistency and chemistry of the Redeem Team, and they couldn't ask for a better test than matching up against one of the World Championship favorites.
So, how did Team USA fare against the Spaniards? Here's a quarter-by-quarter breakdown of the U.S.-Spain scrimmage.
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The U.S. rocketed out to an 8-0 lead, largely on the heels of defense and fast break scoring. Kevin Durant finally got off to a hot start, knocking down his first three shots of the game, including a fast break started by an Andre Iguodala steal on the other end of the court.
Iguodala airballed a three-pointer after a baseline pass from Durant, and Juan Carlos Navarro put Spain on the board with a three-pointer on his end (leading to a snarky, but well-deserved comment from the announcer). The U.S. simply responded with another 8-0 run, extending their lead to 16-3 midway through the first quarter.
Both Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose were hammered by Spain players on their way to the basket early and didn't get the bailout foul calls they were looking for. That's definitely something the inexperienced U.S. squad will need to continue to focus on—those expected superstar calls in FIBA play need not apply to the national team.
Lamar Odom held his own against Marc Gasol down low on the defensive end, boxing him out on multiple occasions. Despite the U.S. team's size deficiency, they've appeared to stay relatively even on the boards. Fouls piled up for Andre Iguodala early—all U.S. nationalism aside, is it me, or did the calls seem skewed towards Spain in the first quarter?
Towards the end of the quarter, Ricky Rubio reminded us all just why he was the No. 5 pick in the 2009 Draft. Rubio tossed two phenomenal passes—one, an underhanded lob for an alley-oop (that was ultimately blown), the other, an overhead backdoor cut that led to Spain's final points of the quarter.
If only David Kahn could convince him to come play for Minnesota. Maybe Kahn could help by not adding a new point guard to his team every six months.
At the end of the first quarter, the U.S. team led 23-16.
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The Spaniards came alive in the last few minutes of the first quarter due to some chippy U.S. fouls, and they keep it going in the second. They narrowed the margin to 23-20 before Chauncey Billups sank his second three-pointer of the game, extending the U.S. lead back up to six.
The U.S. went on another 8-0 run, highlighted by some beautiful work by Billups, putting the score at 34-20 with 4:40 left in the half. All the positive things I said about Odom's work on the boards from the first quarter should be completely revoked; Gasol dominated the U.S. on the boards, generating two offensive rebounds on a single possession at one point.
Team USA kept threatening to blow this game wide open with those 8-0 runs, but careless mistakes brought them back to earth. With the U.S. up 13, Odom threw the ball towards the backboard, theoretically for an alley-oop, and turned the ball over; later in the quarter, Russell Westbrook stole the ball from a Spain player, only to miss the ensuing dunk.
The U.S. team also fell asleep on defense towards the end of the half, allowing Marc Gasol to cherry pick for an uncontested layup when Spain quickly inbounded following a U.S. basket.
Lucky for the U.S., Spain couldn't hit the broadside of a barn in the first half. They often settled for jumpers, and often missed those jumpers, allowing USA to keep a 12-point lead going into halftime.
For what it's worth, Spain had a grand total of zero fast break points in the first half.
At halftime, the U.S. team led 45-33.
Careless turnovers really got in the way of Team USA today.
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Spain came out firing right after halftime, cutting the once-bloated U.S. lead to pieces in the opening minutes. A few quick three-pointers from Spain—highlighted by a pull-up three by Rubio—diced the U.S. lead down to five points, at 50-45.
Durant knocked down a pull-up three to extend the U.S. lead back to eight, but on the other end, he fouled Rudy Fernandez while he was taking a three-point shot, allowing Spain to cut the U.S. lead to two possessions.
Westbrook made a number of roster spot-sealing plays in the third quarter—a thunderous dunk at 55-53 U.S., a beautiful three-man weave where Rose fed him the ball on the break as he curved around the baseline, a no-look pass to Durant for an easy layup, and a hockey assist on the final U.S. basket of the quarter.
Sloppy turnovers still plagued the U.S. and kept Spain threatening for most of the quarter—Curry threw an especially awful pass after stealing from Rubio and converting an easy layup late in the quarter.
A few fun stats for us (with 2:51 left in the third quarter):
- Team USA was shooting 51 percent overall from the field; Spain had been shooting 36 percent to this point.
- Team USA had 13 turnovers to Spain's nine.
- Team USA was shooting 6-of-13 on three-point FGs; Spain was shooting 5-of-14.
At the end of three quarters, the U.S. team led 69-58.
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Well, this escalated quickly.
The U.S. scored on an easy bucket to stretch their lead to 13 at 71-58, but from there, it was all Spain. Cheap fouls from the U.S. and quick layups from the Spaniards cut the U.S. lead to seven early.
Gasol really got it going in the fourth quarter, dominating the U.S. on the low block offensively and defensively. Rubio, Navarro, and Fernandez made an effort of feeding Gasol down low, and he rewarded them by consistently converting opportunities.
Spain ended up tying the game with minutes left, first at 80-80, then at 82-all. Then, Rose and Durant stepped up and took turns being the heroes for the U.S. squad.
Rose and Odom ran a pick-and-roll against Rubio and Gasol with only 30 seconds remaining in the game. By the time Rose had worked past Rubio, Gasol was powerless to stop his drive to the basket. On the other end, a lazy continuation foul by Iguodala gave Navarro an and-one, which he converted.
The stage was set for one final U.S. play, and Rose managed to draw a foul and knock down two free throws for a one-point U.S. lead. With Durant's hand in his face, Rubio fired from near the sideline, missed, only to see Fernandez recover and spot up from right where Rubio shot.
Luckily, the Durantula was there again, and Durant blocked Fernandez's shot, making it fall harmlessly out of bounds, as the clock expired.
Durant finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds on 9-of-16 shooting, not to mention one all-important block, and won the Global Community Cup MVP award for his troubles.
The U.S. team beat Spain, 86-85.
What Can Be Learned From Today's Game?
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So, Coach K, even though this game doesn't mean as much as the ones your team will face in a week in Turkey, there are some lessons to be learned here.
Most importantly, the U.S. team simply needs to continue familiarizing themselves with international rules. It sounds simple and obvious, yes, but there were too many occasions today where the U.S. squad made stupid mistakes and reverted back to NBA rules.
In the first quarter, the physicality of the game appeared to bother the Americans. In the fourth, a costly travel from Durant (he moved his pivot foot too early) and a continuation foul late by Iguodala nearly cost the Americans the game. Coach K must clean up these types of mistakes now, or the U.S. will stand no chance against the Euro squads that have played by these rules for years.
The U.S. squad will look to revert to their first-quarter form, when they stormed out to the 16-3 lead over Spain, as they continue on in their quest for the world championships. To do so, they must remember that their offense starts with a solid defense—clogged passing lanes, especially. They work most effectively on the fast break, but you can't generate a fast break without forcing the opponent to turn the ball over first.
There were certainly positive signs to be gleaned from the U.S. squad today—any time you can beat the reigning World Champions (from 2006) with a squad that's been assembled for all of one month, you've gotta be happy with the results. That said, the U.S. still has plenty of work to do if they hope to dethrone Spain as the FIBA World Champions in the next few weeks, starting with a few more lessons with the FIBA rulebook.
But as long as Kevin Durant's scoring the way he did today, the U.S. has a very real shot at taking home the gold in the next few weeks.