USA 121, China 90

by Lang Whitaker

If only every team the USA plays in the World Basketball Championships attempts to go man-to-man for the rest of the tournament. China tried and tried and tried, and as Linkstigator Fran Fraschilla noted (twice), trying to play man-to-man against Team USA is suicidal. Team USA was faster and stronger and bigger than China at pretty much every position (except for maybe Yao). The US came out fired up and sped ahead to a 21-8 lead in the first five minutes. The US led 32-17 after one quarter, 63-38 at the half and 95-62 after three.

• Best team player award goes to LeBron James, who didn’t score his first basket with 3:47 to go in the second quarter but was incredibly active, grabbing rebounds, passing and defending.

• Best overall player was probably Dwight Howard, who was decent against Yao Ming, playing him almost exclusively one-on-one, and finished with 16 points and 11 boards. Dwyane Wade also played well, particularly against the Chinese zone in the second quarter. He finished with 26 points in 18 minutes.

• Worst US player was probably Chris Bosh, who played 11 minutes and finished with 3 points, 2 rebounds and 2 turnovers. He still does not look comfortable in the US system, which is a little worrying since he’s looked out of sorts since I them practicing in Vegas.

• Best audio of the game was when Coach K was overheard yelling at the guys at the scorer’s table that the score was wrong, saying something about a free throw. Which leads to…

• Worst audio of the game was from ESPN, not for anything the announcers said but because Jim Durham and Linkstigator Fran Fraschilla aren’t even in Japan. Just like ESPN and Fox Soccer Channel do for most international match-ups, ESPN has their announcers in a studio in Bristol with headphones and mics, pretending to be there live (and never mentioning that they’re announcing off of a simulcast). I guess they’re not used to announcing off a monitor, because there were several times they missed action. My personal favorite was a play where LeBron made a steal and turned to throw it up court, obviously shuffling his feet. The refs blew the whistle and called a walk, and Jim Durham talked about how the international players are adept at fouling quickly to stop a fast break. Except nobody fouled quickly to stop a fast break. They corrected themselves a few moments later. I also noticed Carlos Arroyo sitting in the fourth row just behind the basket, but the ESPN guys never pointed it out.

And ESPN wonders why we don’t think they care about basketball. They’ve got billions of dollars, so shell out some cash and at least get Fran and Jim over there, fellas.

• Worst defense of the game came at the start of the third quarter, when Team USA tried to play zone defense. The US players used the zone to relax, and China reeled off 10 straight points to cut it to a 15 point lead. They then went back to man-to-man and punished China the rest of the way. Not that big a deal, although it was pretty alarming to see Team USA so terrible at playing a simple zone defense. The US also gave up way too many threes from China (they made 13).

• Best defense of the game was the US’s man-to-man, which was mostly airtight. They forced 24 turnovers from China, and their young guards (Chen Jianghua is 17 years old) looked totally overwhelmed.

• Worst conundrum of the game goes to China for their Yao Ming problem. Yao is obviously their best player, but he really slows down their offense because he’s the slowest guy on the court. China played their best in transition, but as long as Yao’s on the court they have to walk it up and throw it into the post.

• Best prospect goes to Yi Jianlian. He’s tall and athletic, and he’s the best young NBA prospect on China. He finished with 13 points and 7 boards, though he seemed overwhelmed at times and wasn’t very assertive. The other issue is his age. He’s listed as being 18, but my main man Chris Sheridan writes that he’s actually 24.

• Worst commercial was the spot for the new streetball movie Crossover. I’ve seen the ad before but never noticed who plays the coach — Wayne Brady!

• Worst emotion of the game goes to Yao Ming, who was really demonstrative against the refs. He looks genuinely aggrieved when he’s complaining, but the mechanical way he flails his arms around when he’s mad makes him look like a giant robot programmed to look upset.

• Best dunk goes to Dwight Howard, who smashed one on Yi Jianlan while getting smacked in the face. And then on the next play he caught his own rebound and dunked on Carmelo.