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Team USA edges Spain by a single point, but claims their most significant victory yet

Aug 22, 2010, 6:47 PM EDT

usa_durant_rose_iguodala.jpgBoth Team USA and the Spanish national team were reluctant to reveal
their full arsenals, but today’s friendly between the two FIBA
powerhouses was easily the Americans’ most entertaining exhibition yet.
Neither squad was flawless in their execution, but Team USA’s quality
performance against their top opponent in the World Championships (even
if Spain wasn’t giving it a proper go) leaves a far sweeter aftertaste
than yesterday’s bitter win over Lithuania.

Spain isn’t going to shoot 22.7% from three-point range very often.
They’re also not going to fumble so many passes out of bounds. Yet Team
USA’s defensive success overall was no fluke, as the Americans’ length and
athleticism caused all kind of problems for Spain both inside and out.

Marc Gasol, as expected, got his. He finished with 17 points for the day. But Gasol only shot 41.6% from the field. His turnaround jumper
will be there against Lamar Odom and Gasol can really work the high
post against Tyson Chandler. Still, Team USA can live with that. As
long as Gasol’s production remains reasonable, he doesn’t offer an
unmatchable advantage. The Americans can utilize their size on the
wings and their quickness in the backcourt just as Spain can utilize
Gasol, and the give and take of those positional match-ups is just part
of what makes a USA-Spain collision course so intriguing.

The
slim point differential (Team USA won by a single point, 86-85) shouldn’t be too concerning. Spain is just that
talented of a team, and they’re understandably both the Americans’ most
feared and most respected opponent. It showed. Team USA looked truly
prepared to play against Spain. Not against an international opponent
using FIBA rules, but against Spain. They played the screen-and-roll game well, knew where to cut off passing lanes, took
away a pet play or two, and showed the impact or proper preparation.

I’m honestly not sure what the game plan was against Lithuania, but the
Americans took a double-digit lead against what could be the top team
in the tournament, all while letting Rajon Rondo and Danny Granger
cheer from the bench.

Rondo is clearly a central part of Team
USA’s plans at this point. That leads me to believe that Mike
Krzyzewski was holding him back rather than “benching” him, and the
same could possibly be true of Granger. While Spain’s coaching staff
chose to play the entire game man-to-man rather than turning to their
vaunted zone defense, Coach K opted to sit one of his top perimeter
defenders and playmakers in Rondo, and a skilled shooter in Granger.
Having both of those guys available for full-time duty changes the
overall feel of the team (which I imagine is why Krzyzewski chose to
sit them against an opponent he’s sure to see again later), even if allocating some of Rudy Gay’s minutes to Granger doesn’t seem like a tectonic
shift.

For the first time in Team USA’s pre-tournament exhibitions, Kevin
Durant looked like the star that he is. KD has had a rough stretch,
shooting-wise, against China, France, and Lithuania, but he dropped 25
points on 56.3% shooting from the field this afternoon. Like it or not,
this is about how dominant Durant will need to be for Team USA to put
away their more competitive opponents.

Not that he didn’t have help. The burden of being his team’s primary
scorer was lifted from Durant’s shoulders, as Derrick Rose took over on a
pair of high pick-and-roll sets. Rose’s speed was lethal off the
screen, and he was able to drop a bucket and draw a foul to score just
enough for a USA victory.

The Americans’ clutch play on the other end, however, came down to two of
their leaders: Kevin Durant and Mike Krzyzewski. Coach K called for a
zone look — the only zone Team USA played in the entire game — on
Spain’s final offensive possession out of a timeout, which completely
shook Spain’s prescribed set. Ricky Rubio and Rudy Fernandez were left to take heavily contested jumpers off of failed penetration, the second of which Durant swatted
out of bounds as time expired. Leaning too heavily on the zone would
undoubtedly come back to bite Team USA, but credit Krzyzewski with
knowing exactly when to unveil it in this game.

The exhibition W may
technically mean nothing, but Coach K has shown he’s willing to shake up
defensive coverage to get the jump on other teams, and that’s valuable.

Closing thoughts:

  • Traveling violations continue to be a thorn in Team USA’s side. Some of
    those travels are legitimate (Durant seems to have a problem with
    taking a step before dribbling off the pump fake/hestitation), and
    others just a typical byproduct of FIBA officiating. The refs are bad. Really bad.
  • Ricky Rubio is 19 years old, and he’s fantastic. You take the bad with
    the good when it comes to Rubio; was it necessary to make a no-look
    pass on Spain’s final possession? Hardly. Did he really need to attempt
    the around-the-back-pass-turned-turnover that led to a key Team USA
    layup? Definitely not. Yet for each of those moves he had a beautiful
    find or a terrific on-ball steal, and then some. He’s so talented
    already, and we can only hope he makes his NBA debut sooner rather than
    later.
  • Lamar Odom got the start at center over Tyson Chandler, and played
    rather well. Odom was probably the Americans’ top screener, and Team
    USA’s squadron of point guards did a great job of finding Odom around
    the rim. He finished with 12 points and nine rebounds in 29 minutes. 
  • Juan. Carlos. Navarro. He should still be in the NBA, but the
    basketball gods so rudely stole him away from us to hide him overseas,
    his floaters and jumpers never to be seen again by most NBA fans.
    Navarro was Spain’s top scorer with 20, and it’s clear that when these
    two teams meet again in the elimination rounds, Navarro will be a point
    of emphasis for Team USA’s defense. Iguodala did a good job of
    defending him, but I’d love to see Rajon Rondo have a crack at him as well.

  1. luffy - Aug 22, 2010 at 10:14 PM

    This is great for the US team, hope they win the actual tournament.
    1 point is still a win, besides this is NOT the best that the US has to offer but they’re competing against the best players of the other countries…
    Imagine if you have the Olympic team playing here? I’m sure they’d win by 10 or more… D.Williams-Kobe-Melo-Amare-D.Howard, 2nd unit Kidd, Wade, ?LBJ?, Boozer, Bosh…

  2. Jacob - Aug 23, 2010 at 12:58 AM

    A lot of missed dunks.

  3. in FLORIDA - Aug 23, 2010 at 8:00 AM

    If I’m not mistaken, the USA team on the floor now is only for this World Championships, correct? If they want, they can put a totally different team on the floor for the actual Olympics, isn’t that right? This tournament allows them to “qualify” for the Olympics. What’s to say a player or two isn’t changed out when the Olympics rolls around… Dwight Howard and Kobe in particular.

  4. Troy - Aug 23, 2010 at 12:05 PM

    The team the USA has sent to this tournmament is a B or C team at best meanwhile every other country has sent their A+ teams. It´s disappointing as an American that the Best players we have can´t dedicated 1 month of their summers to representing their country and so we get this team which is not bad but far from the best we have to offer, very far. The international game is very very different from the NBA and the style difference is incredibly evident while watching Team USA play. While other teams are adept at passing we choose to make 1 or 2 passes at most or usually just opt for the 1 on 1 moves. We have no down low presence and 3 point shooting is abysmal. Fundamentally the NBA is absolutely horrible and you can see it in every game the USA plays in this tournament. Watch the passing, the cuts, the team play by the other teams and then watch the playground ball which is the NBA. It´s rather sad that the US refuses to learn how to play the international style, I think it can be chalked up to a style shift in the NBA. The dream team didnt´have those issues because everyone of those players on that team were fundamentally sound, the NBA has become a glorified street ball league with little invested in team ball and fundamentals, it´s pure athleticism. Having said all that I still hope Team USA can figure out this international game and win the tournament.

  5. Jacob - Aug 23, 2010 at 1:06 PM

    Durant getting in Marc Gasols face to was awesome. Stepping up and becoming the great player we will see for years to come.

  6. TEAMUSA2010 - Aug 23, 2010 at 5:24 PM

    just stopping by to educate you all in the dark. a team b team. wtf you guys are just thinking of name brand players. including all american media. do you all know that there are AMERICAN megastars out in EUROPE. we didn’t here of CHILDRESS having a hard time adjusting in GREECE why because basketball is basketball. i remember in the 90s Pat Ewing usta get criticized because he would take jump shots & drop step. also SAM PERKINS but when DIRK gets does it omg those EUROPEAN big men have outside range. zone is the first defense we learn in elementary school here. pick n roll whattabout STOCKTON/MALONE. physical style whattabout the BAD BOYS 80s or the KNICKS 90s. in all honesty we could put together an all AMERICAN team from EUROPE that most of US here never even heard of and win the WC. our ONLY WEAKNESS that USA has that can’t be changed is our size. Like COACH K SAID “What are we gonna do eat more now until the WC” everything else is so fundamental/technical. this TEAM IS IN A SIMILAR SPOT THAT ATHENS 04 was in. but we are better prepared this time around and our players have more passion/interest & leadership than 04 and yes a better ooach thats not disgruntle w/FIBA USAB & his own players. and no other countries do not have their A TEAMS and our arch nemesis GREECE is gonna be severely downgraded when suspensions get issued from the brawl. BEFORE YOU ALL WRITE YOU SHOULD READ A LITTLE AND DON”T BELIEVE THE HYPE. AMERiCAN SITES HAVE WORSE COMMENTS THAN WHAT I READ ON THE EUROPEAN ONES. JUST BECAUSE YOUR TV’s not a SONY don’t mean it’s not a great tv. these are AMERICANS REPRESENTING YOU & USAB not to hard to cheer for that you do stand for the national anthem right?

  7. art - Aug 24, 2010 at 10:07 AM

    This may not be PC bu to be fair, Spain or Greece would beat a USA team without black players by 50 pts-and we would be lucky to beat New Zealand. Who would you have, Dunleavey, Troy Murphy, Brad Miller, Redick? These are much smaller countries and it is amazing to me how competitive they are.

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