Links: Team USA 119, Spain 82

by August 16, 2008

by Lang Whitaker

Some thoughts about this morning’s USA/Spain game…

1. Team USA came to play against Spain, while Spain mostly played possum.

I’m not saying that Spain didn’t play hard, per se, but early on Spain mostly played their best players and used the best rotation, and after one quarter they were behind 31-22. In the second quarter, Team USA outscored Spain 30-23. Team USA won the game 119-82, though it was closer for most of the game than the score indicated. Spain didn’t go to a zone until the second quarter, and in the third quarter, Spanish coach Aito went almost exclusively with high-dribbling former Jazz PG Raul Lopez; with Lopez at the helm, Spain totaled just 18 in the quarter. In the fourth, with the game over, Team USA outscored Spain 33-19. Could Spain have won this game? Not with the way Team USA was forcing turnovers (Spain had 28). But Spain definitely did not go all out, all the time. I assume they’re saving that for the medal round.

Before the Games started, we were talking about the upcoming games in the office and Khalid said he didn’t think Team USA would struggle against any team. I disagreed, saying we can’t have that imperialistic attitude anymore. But, I added, if we can force something like 25 turnovers a game, then yeah, we’ll win every game by a lot. And so far, nobody’s been able to avoid Team USA’s defense.

2. That said, Team USA had one of their best all-around games of the Olympics. LeBron had 18 points, 8 assists and 5 boards, including a play in the first where Spain tried to give a foul on the break but Bron powered through the foul by Alex Mumbru and tomahawked the ball home. Melo also finally got going, scoring 16 points almost exclusively on spot-up jumpers (6/8 from the floor, 4/6 on threes).

3. Dwyane Wade deserves his own paragraphs. He’s been tremendous throughout, but he might have had his best game yet today. He went 8/12 from the floor and had 6 boards and 2 steals, and he might have had his most dynamic game in the last two years.

During one stretch in the third, Wade made a 360 pass in traffic, then made a double pump tomahawk, then almost made a two-handed steal, then blocked a shot, then got a rebound and bucket. At this point, bringing Wade off the bench is almost cruel.

4. And don’t go flying off the handle, Kobe fans, but your man has been disappointing. He began the game by plowing through a pick from Pau Gasol and then hooking a Spanish defender, tallying two fouls in the first 3 minutes. He forces his shots more than any player on Team USA, and he finished with 11 points, no rebounds, 1 assist and 4 turnovers. Maybe it’s just me, but he really seems to be struggling to find his place within the team. Maybe it’s because he had one less year with the team (after missing the 2006 Worlds in Japan with a bad knee). Or maybe he’s just not made to play on a team that is getting almost completely unselfish play from all its players.

5. I’ve listened with interest the last year as Blazers fans have drooled over Rudy Fernandez. I saw him play in person last year when I saw Ricky Rubio play in Spain, and while he was talented, I didn’t see him as the next Michael Jordan or anything, like some Blazers fans have pegged him. He’s all arms and legs, really athletic, but he’s also kind of wild. He finished today with 8 points, 4 boards and 3 assists, but I’m very curious as to how he’ll fit into the halfcourt NBA game. I do know he looks like Brody from “The Hills.”

6. Today was probably the first time many of you had a chance to see Ricky Rubio play. As you know, I’ve been driving the Ricky Rubio express for a while now. A couple of people at work on Friday told me they were excited to see what Ricky could do, and I tried to keep reminding them that he’s still just 17 years old. That said, I thought he acquitted himself very well against Team USA. He played 18 minutes, scored 8 points, went to the line 6 times, had 3 boards, 3 assists and 3 steals. (He also was credited with 4 turnovers, although at least one of those was an alley-oop that Pau Gasol forgot to jump for.)

Ricky’s a stat stuffer, a guy who can do a lot of things well. I thought he did a nice job controlling tempo for Spain and running their offense. He completed a couple of great passes, including a one-handed alley-oop off the dribble to Rudy Fernandez in the halfcourt offense. Ricky still needs to muscle up and improve his jumper, but for a 17 year old playing for the first time against the best team in the world, against guys he has posters of up on his walls, I’m not sure what more you can ask for.

(Oh, and for everyone who said Deron Williams would totally eat him up, Deron Williams fouled out. I’m just saying…)

7. By the way, I found Bigfoot. He’s in Beijing and his name is Marc Gasol.

8. Seriously, Marc and Pau couldn’t be more opposite, in terms of their looks and their games. But I think Marc could be a good NBA player, with his wide body and space-eating inside. I think OJ Mayo will make him better in Memphis next season. The Grizz are intriguing. And if they hadn’t traded Kevin Love, having Love and Marc Gasol on the same team would have been a boon for the culinary scene in Memphis. Oh well.

8. I’m not trying to pick on the NBC announcers, but Mike Breen gets today’s “Telling A Story Wrong” award. According to Breen, when Michael Redd was interviewing with Jerry Colangelo a few years ago trying to get a spot on Team USA, he flew in “on a long flight” to meet with Colangelo, and because it was a long flight he wore a sweatsuit to be comfortable. Then when he arrived at Colangelo’s “office,” he asked to use a restroom where he changed into suit for the interview, because Redd felt it was a job interview and he wanted to dress appropriately.

I told a similar story in the SLAM Olympics special issue we did a month ago. I will now quote Jerry Colangelo directly, from a press conference where he was asked about the commitment of the USA players:

“Michael Redd stands out. I set up here in Chicago and met with various players. LeBron James was coming in with Cleveland and I talked to (Kirk) Hinrich with the Bulls and some other guys. Michael said he’d drive down from Milwaukee. He showed up at my hotel, called my room and then knocked at the door. He was in his sweats and had a hanging bag over his shoulder. He asked to be excused and went into the john. He put on a suit and tie and came out to have the interview with me. That was pretty damn impressive.”

OK. So…
A) Redd didn’t fly in for the interview on a long flight, he drove 80 minutes from Milwaukee to Chicago.
B) He did the interview in Colangelo’s hotel room, not his office.

When Breen told the story on air, I pointed out the inaccuracies aloud, and Wifey said, “He wasn’t that far off.”

I responded, “Well, unfortunately it’s called journalism. You’re supposed to get everything right.”

(BTW, love that Colangelo calls it “the john.”)

9. And now the US can rest tomorrow, and then Monday morning they face off against Germany (who are 1-3) with a chance to clinch their Group and ensure a 1 seed in the medal round.

Team USA has gone through a lot of changes, but once again, we look like World beaters. For now, at least.