Links: Team USA 101, China 70

by Lang Whitaker

So much for a close shave off the bat. In what was perhaps the most-watched basketball game in history, Team USA struggled early against China — Team USA led by just 3, 29-26, midway through the second — but Team USA’s defensive pressure finally wore down China and carried the US to a 101-70 win.

There’s been a lot of talk about Team USA having to adjust to the international style of play — in the NBA, teams generally play from the outside-in, but internationally teams generally play outside-in. China began by playing outside-in, meaning they posted Yao and then waited for him to get doubled and throw it out to open shooters on the outside. And the Chinese shooters were red-hot early on going 5-7 from three in the first 15 minutes.

But the odds caught up with China. As they tired out — poor Yao was clinging to his shorts by the second quarter — Team USA continued hawking the ball and forcing turnovers. Team USA reeled off a 16-3 run just before the half and went into the third quarter leading 49-37. The US then turned it up in the third, winning the quarter 25-11.

China managed to create a couple of highlight plays in the fourth, but one of the human victory cigars (Tayshaun Prince) was already in and the US was nursing a 25-point lead.

China was led by Yao, who finished with 13 and 10, but he was never really dominant and seemed out of gas early on.

For Team USA, it was a solid, steady performance to open the Games. Dwight Howard kept pounding the ball into Yao, creating contact. LeBron ran out over and over again for easy dunks and had three blocked shots, including one ridiculous two-handed snatch from mid-air.

Even Jason Kidd got into the act, creating two steals early on and setting a tone. In fact, all three of Team USA’s point guards were terrific; Deron Williams had his best defensive game in a while and Chris Paul was all over the court on both ends. (NBC’s Doug Collins said that Chris Paul might be the big surprise for Team USA this summer. So it would be a surprise that the guy who almost won the MVP a few months ago is playing well?) We should also single out Chris Bosh, who finished with 9 points and 8 boards.

As a team, the USA forced 18 turnovers on 14 steals, meaning they were successful at turning China’s mistakes into offensive opportunities.

Yet all was not great. Carmelo Anthony was pretty much non-existent, finishing 0-3 from the floor for 3 points in 14 minutes. Kobe was also disappointing, going 1-7 from behind the arc and forcing a couple of shots outside the offense.

China’s strategy of creating outside jumpers worked, but only for a while.

“We didn’t play our best game but we played well,” LeBron said after the game.

And today, playing well was more than enough.