The Americans heard the dinner bell and ran so they would not miss a minute of Monday's African feast. The Angolans rank as the best team on their continent, but their undersized lineup was no match for a U.S. squad starving for a domineering, wire-to-wire slapfest after a slapdash finish to pool play.
Using 13 first-quarter fast-break points, a balanced attack, and suffocating pressure defense, Team USA set an early tone it would carry through most of its 121-66 win. Angola runs a lot of NBA sets, as opposed to continuity in the half-court, and its best player, Olimpio Cipriano, did not take off his warmups. Still, this 40-minute asphyxiation was an upgrade over the sleepwalking efforts against Iran and Tunisia.
The best parts of this pleasure cruise: five total turnovers (the lowest number this summer), 30 assists on 41 field goals, 65 points in 20 minutes, and better ball movement—including a set play to start the third period that resulted in a Derrick Rose trey.
Sure, the U.S. victory had its warts: defensive breakdowns in transition, too many three-pointers, and some tacky fouls. The Americans also led by 20 with less than five minutes played in the first quarter.
Guard Roberto Fortes blew by Tyson Chandler for a lay-up. Guard Miguel Lutonda blew by Chandler on the next play for an easy two. Chauncey Billups nailed a three-pointer, but his teammates failed to run back on defense and allowed Joaquim Gomes an open court score. Several Angolans dropped wide-open triples through the net. Chandler picked up three quick fouls, including a hard bump that led to a three-point play.
Three U.S. players took pictures while a missed steal opportunity became an uncontested dunk for forward Felizardo Ambrioso. Gomes made 9-12 from the field for 21 points. A period of lapses allowed Angola to bump its shooting percentage to 42. The interior resistance still requires some repair.
Yet, a team that has been together for less than a month and a half should expect to struggle at times. This inexperienced unit will not embody perfection. The best anyone, including Coach Mike Krzyzewski, can hope for is a grade-A effort. Even with some ugly defensive moments, this triumph was miles better.
Team USA hit the snooze button on Wednesday and Thursday but cruised in matter-of-fact fashion. A weekend with several practice opportunities worked wonders for the offense; the defense was sharp enough early.
Kevin Durant scored 17 points. Chauncey Billups awoke from his perimeter slumber to drill five three-pointers en route to 19 points. Kevin Love contributed eight points and six rebounds. Eric Gordon, Russell Westbrook, Rose, and Andre Iguodala delivered plenty of fast-break gems.
Many of the U.S.'s 10 steals came thanks to patience, not manic gambling, though there was some of that, too.
The 2008 Redeem Team thumped opponents with sheer talent and a host of accomplished isolation players. This one will win with attitude and effort. The ages and deficiencies of many key cogs will often yield egregious mistakes star-studded rotations with Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant might not make.
The obvious question after Monday: What happens when the Americans do not make 18 of 38 three-pointers? Krzyzewski will find out soon enough. The U.S. will play the winner of the Russia-New Zealand nightcap on Thursday.
The Americans will be heavily favored in that game, regardless of the draw, but Russia or New Zealand will provide different looks and lean on a different strategy. No one can ignore the positive signs that resurfaced Monday.
The execution improved, there were less reasons for trepidation, and the Americans' foots did not ease off the gas pedal. They figured out the Angolans rec-league defense early and demolished it from the first to last possession.
Team USA figures to face stiffer competition from its remaining foes. This all-you-can-eat buffet—or banquet, if you want to call it that—was an elimination round mirage. Krzyzewski, though, can look at this as a building block.
It started and ended with a ding. First, the dinner bell. Then, a knockout blow.
Mahinmi Gets Another Foul Lesson
Some things do not transfer between FIBA and NBA competition, but one did Sunday night. Poor Ian Mahinmi could not stop hacking his opponents. The French center failed to contain Turkey's impressive stock of big men in a 95-77 defeat.
The San Antonio Spurs drafted him in 2005, when David Lee was still on the board, because they saw a tape of him dunking like Amar'e Stoudemire. Rare athleticism for his size made him an intriguing prospect and, at the time, a low-risk gamble.
A host of foot injuries in the 2008-2009 robbed him of the chance to translate his D-League pre-eminence to the big boy level. Fabricio Oberto and Matt Bonner sat out the season opener against the Portland Trail Blazers. A depleted frontline would have provided the perfect showcase for Mahinmi.
Instead, he languished on the bench in street clothes, and his opportunities to stick in San Antonio faded. Gregg Popovich used him sparingly in the 2009-2010 campaign and opted not to pick up the inexpensive option on his deal. That the Spurs chose to save a few million bucks says a lot.
The Dallas Mavericks inked him to a multi-year contract this summer in hopes a change of scenery might cajole his development. It won't. Rick Carlisle might advertise that Jason Kidd's veteran presence will make the difference.
That empty promise, though, conveniently omits an important fact: Mahinmi could not cut it practicing daily with Tim Duncan, the greatest power forward ever.
He made the French national team because Tony Parker, Joakim Noah, and others skipped Turkey. Could Coach Vincent Collet have justified his inclusion otherwise?
Mahinmi's line from France's tournament ouster: two points, two rebounds, one assist, one turnover, five fouls. Mahinmi, at least, is consistent.
Sunday night, then, was more of a confirmation than a surprise. Carlisle will soon learn the lesson Popovich did.