Posted Aug 12 2010 10:13PM
NEW YORK -- USA Basketball took the stage at Radio City Music Hall on Thursday to tip off the World Basketball Festival. And despite the abnormal setting, the crowd, the long timeouts, the shortened game time, and the anticipation of seeing Jay-Z perform live following their scrimmage, the U.S. National Team managed to get some work done.
While it was important to celebrate the game and drum up support for this short-on-superstars edition of USA Basketball, the clock keeps ticking and the World Championship is just 16 days away. And at this point, if the U.S. Team has 24 minutes on the basketball floor, those 24 minutes must be taken seriously.
LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Amar'e Stoudemire sat courtside, and they got to see a tightly contested game, which went to sudden-death overtime. On the first possession of the extra period, Rajon Rondo and Tyson Chandler connected on an alley-oop to win the game for the Blue Team, 49-47.
Andre Iguodala was the star for the Blue, leading them with 15 points on 7-for-11 shooting, with several of his points coming on highlight dunks on the break. He showed good chemistry with teammate Kevin Durant, who finished with 10 points, but shot just 4-for-12 from the field.
After an ugly first half where the teams combined for just 39 points, both teams warmed up in the final 12 minutes. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski wants his team to have a defensive identity, and part of the offensive issues can be credited to strong defense, but in the strange environment, perimeter shooting was poor (the teams combined to shoot 7-from-36 from 3-point range) and turnovers (30 total) were frequent.
"We're still in training camp mode," Lamar Odom admitted afterward. "Sometimes, it's not going to look pretty."
But both teams took the game seriously. While they put on a show for the capacity crowd and there were several highlights, they were a product of the style of basketball the team wants to play, and not an All-Star Game mentality.
"We were more focused on trying to get better today," Durant said. "And that showed."
Danny Granger, who suffered a dislocated finger on Tuesday and missed Wednesday's practice, received some good news when his MRI came back negative. He started for the white team Thursday and scored six points on 3-for-9 shooting, with his injured right ring finger taped to his middle finger for support.
After a slow start, Stephen Curry hit four key threes in the second half for the Blue Team, finishing with 14 points. Lamar Odom led the White with 13.
"It's a little bit different environment," Krzyzewski said. "I thought our guys reacted very well to it in the second half. But the defense, the effort is all there. And obviously, when you're playing against one another and putting different combinations in, everything's not going to be mainstream. Obviously, we would like to have shot better."
"Overall, I think we played hard," Durant said. "We're just ready to play against some other competition now."
That opportunity will come Saturday and Sunday. The U.S. Team will resume their normal activities on Friday with a practice and scrimmage against the Select Team at the Knicks' practice facility in Tarrytown. Then they'll have a closed scrimmage against China on Saturday and conclude the World Basketball Festival with an exhibition game against France at Madison Square Garden on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, ESPN2).
After Thursday's event, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said that, after the weekend, he may inform the 15 remaining players of which 12 will make the final roster. But the three that don't make the team may still travel to Europe on Monday and remain a part of the group through the three exhibition games in Madrid and Athens, in case of injury. The final roster doesn't need to be official until 48 hours before the World Championship begins.
The World Championship begins Aug. 28 and as the U.S. Team prepares for the games that matter, every minute on the floor counts.
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