118-78. I guess that’s what happens when you question a team filled with the greatest players a sport has to offer, led by one of the greatest coaches of all time. Team USA was on a mission Wednesday afternoon, thumping the British National Team by 40 points in their third of five exhibition games. And while I don’t exactly think anything I, or any other arm chair coach, analyst or ESPN Expert, had to offer made a difference, it looked as though everything we said, criticized and wrote, Coach Mike Krzyzewski took and implemented a new strategy for. Either that or he concocted his own formula of “Mike’s Secret Stuff” and made his players drink it. So no, I’m not saying I helped make Team USA Basketball any better. But, well, you be the judge…
They Actually Have Big Men
Okay, so Coach K didn’t import some freakishly tall Monstars…that we know of. What he did do, however, was play Tyson Chandler fewer minutes than anyone else on the team, essentially forcing him to play Anthony Davis and Kevin Love. Unlike the Brazil game, which saw Davis and Love play a combined 5:35 (Davis earned a DNP), this time around Coach K let loose his secret weapons, and by the time the final horn sounded, they hadn’t disappointed. Both Love and Davis, however, checked in mid second quarter and immediately showed why Coach K had them on the end of his bench, floundering around like dead fish in an ocean of sharks. Almost immediately, Kevin Love channeled his inner Brian Scalabrine, picking up 3 quick fouls that sat him down until the game was far out of reach. This was exciting news though, as Kevin Love seemingly remembered he was bigger than everyone else and that maybe it might give him an advantage and/or intimidation factor. Spoiler Alert: it does. And it worked. Whatever was said to him is worthy of a gold medal itself.
The Transformation of Anthony Davis
The kid has never played pro ball. He is barely 19 and has spent approximately one year away from Mom and Dad. So naturally, playing international basketball against seasoned veterans and old men who have, ya know, seen the world, been there and done that, and any other cliche you want to insert, seemingly isn’t such a great idea, right? Actually, it is. The kid is an animal. When he checked in during the second quarter after not getting any action against Brazil, he did what every other 19-year-old on a basketball court with the greatest players on Earth would do: ran around like a chicken with its head cut off. He looked confused (rightfully so), nervous (rightfully so), but most nerve-enducing: uneducated. He looked like someone who didn’t have the skills to play college ball, let alone lead his team to a National Championship as a freshman, get drafted number one overall, and then replace an All Star on the American Olympic team. And then it happened. When Davis checked into the game in the fourth, suddenly everyone in a US uniform shifted their attention to him. He was getting the ball, following orders from his point guard and suddenly – WOAH! A monstar (see what I did there?) dunk here, a key block there, and all of a sudden he was the same force he was all season at Kentucky, just facing elite competition on an international stage surrounded by the greatest players on Earth. Suddenly, he was one of them. It was terrifying and awe-inspiring all at the same time. This kid is the real deal and a force to be reckoned with.
Chemistry, Chemistry, Chemistry
Carmelo Anthony played terribly against Brazil. He didn’t play defense, took seven bad shots, and missed six of them (and two free throws). Chris Paul, a reluctant scorer who has grown to accustomed to throwing lob passes to the his high-fliers in LA, while not turning the ball over, played an overall poor game. Kevin Durant, the teams best pure scorer and for the time being backup center, couldn’t get going and had to focus all his energy on guarding bigger centers. So, Coach K made a change that hopefully is permanent: pulled Anthony and Paul from the starting lineup and inserted Durant and point guard Deron Williams. Williams, a stealthy scorer who can get hot on a moment’s notice, can penetrate defenses with lightning-quick agility, and has the ability to pull up and drain threes in transition a la Ray Allen, was the perfect compliment to a starting lineup already stacked with scorers LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Durant. The move allowed Kevin Durant to get his offensive game going early, so by the time the big bruisers came in he was already in a rhythm. On the second unit, Anthony suddenly only had to worry about himself and took higher percentage shots, got hot and played well the entire game, ending tied with a team-high 19 points. Chris Paul’s electric defense sparked the second unit as well, as they set the tone defensively for Team USA who forced 27 turnovers, including 16 steals. And let’s not forget Williams, who took some pressure off the big guns and scored 11 straight points to start the second half for the good guys. A little shake up goes a long way.
They Played Like a Team and Had Fun Like a Team
In their game against Brazil, the US squad not only looked over matched, they appeared apathetic. It was as if the team had come down with a bug that rapidly spread through out the locker room. That bug was overconfidence, fueled by Dream Team comparisons and winning their first game as a unit by 54 points. When the going got tough, the tough never got going against Brazil. Those struggles, though, may have been the best remedy for the problem. In just a few short days, USA players and coaches realized and embraced the value of a balanced attack, a team game on both ends of the floor and the possibility that if they didn’t take their heads out of their gold-sniffing asses they just embarrass themselves and the country they play for on a national stage and lose. Instead of a selfish attack, the Americans relied on each other and put themselves on the line every play, trusting that their teammates would do the same. This strategy proved useful as they efficiently drove to the basket, effectively open the floor for their shooters to take and make better shots. Every player on the team scored, 11 of 12 had an assist, only one player had more than 20 minutes on the floor (Durant, 21), no one scored more than 19 points and six players scored in double figures. They improved drastically in several areas, namely shooting 60% from the floor, 46% from downtown, and having 39 assists on 47 made baskets. When you play like a team, you win like a team. And let’s be real: it’s no fun unless you win.
And to think I ever doubted them. Drink up, men.