Team USA-Brazil Recap
Notes and quotes from Monday’s exhibition game in the nation’s capital.
Brazil gave Team USA an early scare last night in Washington, DC, but the men in red, white and blue outscored the opposition 20-5 in the second quarter and rode the coattails of Finals MVP LeBron James as the American team got an 80-69 win in its final tune-up on home turf.
It wasn’t pretty in patches, but by the time President Barack Obama got Kiss Cam redemption, the US had seized control. Despite shooting an abysmal 6-24 from the three-point line as a team and awful shooting nights from Kobe Bryant (3-11, 8 points) and Carmelo Anthony (1-7, 3 points), Team USA won by upping its defensive intensity—Brazil turned the ball over 26 times—and withstood a sloppy performance by virtue of a depth advantage and superior scoring down the stretch.
The game was the finishing touch of the World Basketball Festival weekend in DC—and thanks to our friends at Nike, I was able to take in the exhibition live, bouncing back and forth from the comforts of a luxury box and the crowded press area.
Here’s a random smattering of thoughts and notes from the night that was:
– Kiss Cam controversy aside, having the POTUS in the building was a treat not only for the rest of the fans, but for the players. Tip-off was held up so that Obama could get seated properly, and Team USA took notice of his presence (it was hard not to). James, in particular, said he was affected by the President’s presence.
“For me, for all of us, to be in this position for the President to watch us play the game that we love to play…” began LeBron. “You have dreams to play in the NBA, you have dreams about making game-winning jumpers at the buzzer. You never have dreams about having the President actually watch you play. You don’t think it’s possible. It’s definitely humbling to see him here, to see the First Lady here and their kids here to watch us play. It’s amazing.”
– Wherever he got the inspiration, LeBron was an undeniable force: 30 points, 6 boards, 4 steals, countless rim-rattling dunks to get his teammates fired up and damn good defense against Brazil’s bigs when called upon. In fact, despite filling it up on the offensive end, LBJ was perhaps even more effective as a defensive igniter. “Once we decided that we needed to play defense and not worry about our offense, we turned the game around… The way that we shot the ball tonight, we didn’t let that affect our defense,” he said.
– Speaking of defense, Russell Westbrook continued to impress with his perimeter defense, pestering Brazil’s ballhandlers up and down the court. He had 3 steals in limited minutes. As many have said before me, if Russ can commit to a role as defensive stopper in the backcourt, it will be of huge benefit to Team USA.
– A lot has been made about the United States’ holes up front. And even the Verizon Center’s “We want Davis!” chants in the final stages of Monday night’s win weren’t enough to get a second center on the court for even one minute against Brazil. Still, it sounds like Team USA’s lack of frontcourt depth hasn’t discouraged starting center Tyson Chandler.
“It’s something I was expecting, coming here. Before training camp started, I understood that I probably would be the only true center, with the loss of Dwight [Howard] to back surgery at the end of the season,” said Chandler, post-game. “I don’t think we struggled because of a lack of bigs. I think it was our first real test. They showed us some different looks and that’s just some adjustments that we have to make offensively. And also, we couldn’t make a shot, so that didn’t help.”
– It may have been an away game for Brazil, but it was a home game for NBA veteran Nene, who has called Washington home since a mid-season trade landed him in a Wizards jersey. When his name was called out during per-game intros, Nene received a big-time cheer from the Wizards fans in the building. “It was good man, it was great,” said Nene. “It was special, too, because you don’t play the best team in the world every day. We’re going to remember this moment.”
As for the Wizards’ offseason moves to date, Nene seemed pleased with the direction of the team. “Bradley Beal, he’s a great kid, very mature for his age, very talented,” he said. “And the trade was a great addition for the team. For sure, Coach Randy [Wittman] is going to be really, really happy next season.”
– Quote of the night: “For me, I’m not much of a jumpshooter, I decided I was going to try to make my mark in the paint, with post-ups and drives, just to get us in the flow of the game. Everyone else decided to do the same.” —LeBron James