Aug 30, 2010, 4:57 PM EDT
Are you a glass half full guy about USA basketball, or glass half empty?
Because that will determine how you feel about the USA’s come-from-behind-then-hold-on-to-the-seat-of-your-pants 70-68 victory over Brazil.
If you’re a pessimist, you saw all the perceived flaws of this USA squad exposed — they had trouble protecting the paint against Brazil, especially early, they turned the ball over 22 times, and in the clutch everyone not named Kevin Durant or Chauncey Billups seemed to struggle. The USA barely got by a Brazilian team that didn’t even put an injured Anderson Varejao out on the floor (sprained ankle).
If you’re a cockeyed optimist, you like that your team got tested early — in a game it could afford to lose. You like that it didn’t lose, that the team fought back from being behind as much as 8 points to win. Most of all, you like that Kevin Durant walked off the court pissed off after that game, saying that was not good enough.
The USA was lucky to avoid overtime and get the win.
This game was tied at 62-62 with 8:11 left when both teams both stepped up defensive pressure and conversely seemed to shoot like they felt the pressure. Missed shots piled up late in the game.
The USA took a four-point lead pretty quickly after that tie on a dunk by Lamar Odom (off an Andre Iguodala feed) and a spectacular behind-the-backboard Derrick Rose layup. A minute later Tiago Splitter — the future Spur who showed a lot of polish and why he’ll be good in the NBA, finishing with 13 points — forced his way by Odom for a basket to cut the lead to two. Rose eventually stretched the lead back to four with a couple free throws.
The USA had several chances to extend that lead but kept missing — most notably Lamar Odom putting a great move on Splitter than missing the wide-open layup, something Lakers fans thought looked very familiar. Then with 1:04 left, Brazilian point guard Marcelo Huertas made it a two-point game with a layup.
Billups may have won the game for the USA next trip down by driving into the lane, into Splitter, taking the contact and going up for a pretty little four-foot bank shot. Toronto’s Leandro Barbosa got in for a layup — we told you the USA had trouble protecting the rim — to cut it to two.
After a missed Billups three, Brazil had one last chance to tie (or win) and without calling a timeout Huertas came down and tried to isolate on Rose, but drew the foul on a helping Durant.
Then Huertas missed the first free throw. He intentionally missed the second, chased down his own tipped rebound in the corner and threw a pass to Barbosa, who was in the post trying to shoot over the much taller an stronger Kevin Love. And it still almost went in.
USA fans both exhaled and cheered.
With the win, the USA should go undefeated in group play. They have a day off followed by Iran and Tunisia, neither team nearly as good as any the USA has faced so far.
But the questions are all about the next rounds, the knockout stages.
Kevin Durant led the USA with 27 points but when he sat the USA floundered a lot on offense. The USA’s vaunted depth let them down and starters played big minutes. Brazil shot 71 percent in the first quarter against the vaunted ISA defense, then led by three at the half shooting 7 of 11 from three. That cooled off in the second half, but the USA ran into a team that didn’t flinch at their pressure defense, one that exploited it and knocked down shots.
The question is, can the USA learn from this and improve, or was that just a team exposing flaws that cannot be fixed with this personnel?
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