Hold that gold medal thought and keep the panic button close. Do not press it yet. Team USA towed its line and remained undefeated.
The United States, though, was competing with itself more than Iran, given the overmatched nature of the one-win opponent and the onerous elimination round ahead.
In another glorified scrimmage, the Americans scored an average grade on an important test. They should have pounded the hapless Iranians by at least 50 points and led by more than six after the first 10 minutes. Instead, the status quo first quarter defined a feckless 88-51 victory.
Wednesday's lap of luxury presented Mike Krzyzewski with an opportunity to practice his team's vulgar half-court execution, since the U.S. wrapped up this colossal mismatch before the opening tip.
The negatives far outweighed the positives. I will accentuate the efficacious results first.
Kevin Love entered the game early in the second quarter and scored nine quick points--a two handed lay-in off a feed from Russel Westbrook, two put-backs, and a three-pointer. He bodied up center Hamed Haddadi and forced him into a pair of wild shots. Love finished with 13 points and six rebounds.
Tyson Chandler took full advantage of FIBA rules, grabbing two loose balls off the rim in the final frame. Those resourceful plays make a difference in close contests. He also flushed a put-back and an alley-oop jam. He led the team with seven boards.
In the second half, the Americans guarded some well-executed continuity offense. The Iranians' offensive rebounding sometimes forced the Americans to play 48 consecutive seconds of defense.
That was a valuable training exercise, given that other elite clubs depend on crisp playmaking to slow the tempo.
Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose again led the transition charge. The stifling full-court press created the breakaway buckets that allowed Team USA to build its cushion.
The international three-point line is a drink of water for Durant. His hot shooting beyond the arc continued. A productive outing from the reserves afforded him second-half rest. The less the Americans rely on Durant to bail them out with isolation scores in tight situations, the better.
The U.S. avoided what would have been the greatest upset in FIBA history. With the win, the Americans also clinched the top seed in Group B. If the squad does not demonstrate marked improvement Thursday against Tunisia, the top spot might prove a curse disguised as a blessing.
Greece and Spain's underachievement will put them in the same elimination bracket with the U.S. Undefeated Argentina could also join them with a Thursday letdown. That means two of the three teams penciled as tournament favorites could bow out before the semifinals.
The deficiencies appeared early and often. The methodology mattered more than the final result.
Team USA's defensive rotations on screen-and-rolls were a step late. That allowed Iran to draw more fouls and earn more free throw trips (26 freebies to 11).
The Iranians deserve credit for playing hard early, but they had no business leading 5-3 in the first three minutes of the contest. The Americans needed to make this an uglier and muckier affair than it was. Wire-to-wire domination of the worst teams enforces the fundamental habits and practices necessary to win championship games.
The American guards too often try to run off dead balls, a dicey, ill-advised proposition. Krzyzewski should have ordered his primary ballhandlers to use clock and rehearse half-court sets after any foul or made free throw, especially when the lead snowballed to 30.
The half-court decision making displayed by Westbrook, Stephen Curry, and Rose was shuddersome. They combined for eight turnovers alone in forced run-outs. Curry even tried to dazzle with a behind-the-back feed to Rudy Gay. His mindless heave into the front row was just breathtaking (rolls eyes).
The simple plays count the same as the spectacular ones. Krzyzewski should have benched Curry right after that bone-headed showboating attempt.
Eric Gordon tried to posterize Haddadi but blew his dunk. Rose was out of control with most of his drives. Too much one-on-one play could spell doom in the later rounds.
Team USA cannot win the tournament on fast-break points alone. The players must develop some set plays. Is it too late to do that with Round Robin play concluding tomorrow?
Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers, turnovers, turnovers, turnovers, turnovers, and did I mention turnovers?
The shortcomings that define each American back home have contributed to the lackluster showings this week. For example: If Lamar Odom embodies inconsistency as an L.A. Laker, can Krzyzewski expect constancy from the versatile forward in Turkey?
A final mismatch against Tunisia will offer the U.S. one more chance to fine tune the offense before the one-and-done games take center stage.
With Spain, Greece, and Argentina wounded in many ways, the Americans should shoot for nothing less than the world title, one reason I shoveled criticism on them after a 37-point win.
While the final score indicates merciless suffocation, the cosmetic final number counts for little. The continued uneven effort that led to that victory margin had more of a bronze color than a gold one.
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