Chuck Daly did not call any timeouts during the fabled Dream Team's flawless 1992 Olympic run.The Redeem Team did not break a sweat in Beijing until the Gold Medal game against Spain.
After two breezy victories against Croatia and Slovenia, this group of Americans needed all of five minutes to find a heavyweight boxing match. The discombobulated Americans did not triumph 70-68 as much as they survived the Brazilian's punches and a uproarious conclusion.
Thank goodness for Kevin Durant, Team USA's get out of jail free card. He poured in 19 first-half points and 27 in all. Even the GM and AIG folks could not have fathomed a bailout this massive. He drained four triples, terrorized in one-on-one situations, swished five of his six free throw attempts, and busted his butt on defense. He also carried a heavy 39-minute load.
Now viewers know why Coach Mike Krzyzewski rested Durant for much of the Slovenia contest. Team USA needed everything Durant could give, plus some good fortune to stay unbeaten.
Marcelo Huertas, who destroyed the Americans' pathetic pick-and-roll defense for much of the game, missed his first free throw after drawing a foul with three seconds left. He intentionally bricked the second and tracked down the miss. He kicked a desperation pass to Leandro Barbosa, who missed a lay-up at the buzzer.
Whew! Yikes! My goodness! Rio bravo! A variety of reactions may come to mind.
When Krzyzewski overcomes the sense of frustration sure to accompany the aftermath of this all-around clunker, he will realize that Brazil offered both a lesson and a gift. The Americans needed this slog, and Sunday's hideous second quarter versus Slovenia, in advance of the medal round.
Team USA will steamroll Iran and Tunisia, two cupcake walkovers. Life won't be as easy for Durant and company in the elimination rounds. None of the following statistics will please Krzyzewski.
Brazil shot a blistering 71 percent in the first quarter and led by three, 46-43, at the half. The Brazilians outboarded the Americans by double figures in the first half. The Huertas-Tiago Splitter pick-and-roll was at first indefensible. Brazil drilled seven of its 11 three-pointers in the first 20 minutes.
Team USA's faulty all-iso strategy allowed the game opponents to score easy transition buckets and find wide-open shooters. When it wasn't Splitter and Huertas slashing some early porous defense to bits, it was Barbosa and forward Marcelinho Machado. The iso overload also contributed to the ugly 22-turnover total.
The giveaways must stop soon.
Andre Igoudala missed his lone shot attempt in 29 minutes. Danny Granger and Stephen Curry did not see any court time. Tyson Chandler, once thought as the potential starting center, logged just five minutes. Reserve sparkplug Eric Gordon missed his two shot attempts in a listless five minutes. Kevin Love sank a triple and grabbed a rebound, but did not do much else in his abbreviated daylight.
A motion offense and better ball reversals will yield more open looks and a more balanced scoring output.
Does anyone still question after today's nailbiter whether Splitter can help Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs? Imagine how nightmarish this affair could have been with a healthy Nene Hilario and Anderson Varejao.
The U.S. should should thank its luck and Brazil for a potential tournament-changing tussle. Some critics worried the Americans would romp through its group and then fall flat in a medal round game. There is no way Krzyzewski's squad will dare underestimate an opponent or embrace lethargy after this squeaker.
A number of other fixable flaws became apparent. Durant excels in isolation, but that does not give the other players license forego play calling and ball movement in favor of a one-on-one exhibition. Chauncey Billups, the veteran voice and decision maker, fired up some awful shots, and most of the rest of the cast heaved up more ill-advised lobs and off-target looks than Joe Biden at a comedy club's open mic night.
This me-vs.-the-world approach led to a scoreless stretch that lasted almost two fourth-quarter minutes. Brazil could not take advantage of the Americans' misfires and succumbed to its own perimeter ineptitude.
Consider this near-loss a necessary evil for a U.S. team that lacks experience and proven championship performers, save for for Billups and Lamar Odom.
Krzyzewski now knows his players can handle adversity. The Brazilians did nail some circus three-pointers, all of which were tightly contested. The U.S. defense, though, was ripped apart in the opening half.
Some locker room adjustments, the best of which was the decision to switch on pick-and-rolls, allowed the Americans to claw back and take brief command of the game. The Brazilians shot 27 percent in the second half and clanged their first five three-point attempts.
Sometimes, the best team in a tournament just needs to know how to hang on in the clutch. This close affair also should not have surprised anyone. Ruben Magnano, who previously coached Argentina, has overseen two of the seven losses in USA Basketball's recent history.
This wasn't worse than Spain losing to France, or Greece edging China, or any of the other slack-off efforts by other international powerhouses in the tournament's first three days.
Instead of "yikes," then, think, "thanks." Team USA would rather do this against Brazil in group play than against Greece or Spain in an elimination tilt.
The Americans can do a lot better, and after a rife-with-mistakes close call on Monday, they will.
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