Posted Aug 24 2007 7:32AM
LAS VEGAS, August 23, 2007 — Had Michael Redd been blessed with cold feet to go with his hot hands, maybe the U.S. would have struck it rich a year ago in Japan.
Okay, so rather than leaving his bride at the altar, couldn't he just have said, "Hey, baby, you've always dreamed of a honeymoon in Saitama, right?"
(And, really, what girl hasn't?)
You mean to tell me he couldn't spare the five minutes it took him to nearly single-handedly bury the Virgin Islands to come to the rescue against Greece?
(You remember the 9-for-28 three-point shooting display in the Americans' only loss in last year's World Championships, right?)
Yes, folks, five first-quarter minutes of Michael Redd and fans not wearing red, white and blue might as well have headed for the exits. Nothing to see here but a Team USA practice for the next 30 minutes of game clock, at the end of which the scoreboard read: ISV 59, USA 123. And for the second straight night, Redd tied Carmelo Anthony as the team's top scorer, pouring in 22 tonight.
"You always look, just to anticipate one of your questions, what do you get out of a game like this," U.S. head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after his team improved to 2-0 in the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship. "One, we get a win. Two, you get to see if your team would be focused throughout. Three, for us, we got a good chance to work on our zone defense, which we did a really good job of and stayed out of foul trouble. You do get something out of a big win and the score is irrelevant."
The game wasn't exactly a blowout from the opening horn, as it was only 24 hours earlier when the U.S. scored the game's first nine points vs. Venezuela. It soon turned into one, though.
With 6:15 remaining in the first quarter, Redd was, again, Coach K's sixth man, a role normally reserved for a player who can provide an immediate, much needed, scoring punch when the starting five begins to sputter.
"Most shooters need to find a rhythm or whatever; he's ready right away," Coach K said of Redd in a reserve role on this team. "He knows he's subbing for Kobe -- he can play with Kobe, too -- so that gets him ready. He knows more about when he might get into the game."
In this case, Redd got into the action because Bryant picked up his second personal foul early in the game, the result of playing aggressive defense as Kobe has in the team's first two ball games.
"It's a different role, coming off the bench," Redd admitted, "but at the same time, I've been here before backing up Ray Allen my first couple years in the NBA -- coming off the bench and being expected to score immediately. That was my role five or six years ago. So, I had to go back to that and be professional and be ready to go."
Fourteen seconds later, Redd hoisted his first jumper, a three that bounced off the iron. It would be the first and last time the Milwaukee marksman would misfire in the first half.
After a two-point bucket in the paint, Redd was officially warmed up and took residence in the right corner opposite the Virgin Islands bench, where he would fuel a 17-0 U.S. run to break the game wide open.
First it was Anthony, normally accustomed to being the first option on offense, deferring to his new teammate standing there all alone.
Splash ... 24-9, advantage USA.
After Dwight Howard split a pair of free throws, LeBron James and Redd played a little Hot Potato, passing back and forth until Redd -- with one of the quickest triggers in the NBA -- had enough space to get off his shot.
Swish ... 29-9.
A miss at the other end and a 'Melo board was all Redd needed to try his hand one more time.
Like shooting fish in a barrel ... 32-9.
Sensing that Redd was turning out the lights on their evening festivities in an awful hurry, the Virgin Islands defenders closed in on him. No problem. Redd took a pass in the right corner, put the ball on the floor and drove the baseline, drawing a foul.
Two free throw makes ... 34-9.
If you're keeping score at home, add in a LeBron James dunk in transition (credit Redd with the assist) to start the streak and the result is that Redd scored 13 and had a hand in two more of those points. If you really want to be generous, the other two came when LeBron looked to Redd in the right corner but, instead, zipped a pass into the post to Dwight Howard, who hit two ensuing free throws.
Two more free throws and Redd would close the quarter with 15 points in only 4:37 court time. That's an astounding rate even for a guy with 50-plus point NBA performances on his resume.
"Yeah, I think so," the modest NBA All-Star answered when asked if he'd ever had a scoring stretch like he did tonight. "It's a blessing. I'm just so grateful to be on this team. We have terrific players on this team. Usually I'm shooting over two or three hands during the season and now I'm getting wide open looks, which is beautiful. So, I'm grateful for my teammates."
As, I'm sure, your teammates are for you, Michael.
"Michael's a key guy for us," Krzyzewski said. "That's something we did not have last year on our team. He's one of the few guys I've seen, in coaching over 30 years, people are just so happy when he's shooting the ball. Everybody on our team -- we have great scorers on our team -- they're all happy when he shoots the ball."
And if, a year from now, he's stroking the ball as he was on this particular evening, they all might be a little happier standing atop the medal stand in Beijing than they were receiving silver in Saitama.