Posted Aug 30 2010 7:07PM
At the Abdi Ipekci Arena on Monday, Brazil confirmed the thought that it would be the U.S. National Team's toughest competition in pool play at the 2010 FIBA World Championship. The U.S. confirmed as well that the road to gold would not be an easy one, despite their exhibition play success.
Flaws were exposed. Lessons were learned. Character was tested.
And when Leandro Barbosa's spinning attempt under the basket bounced off the rim at the buzzer, the U.S. had escaped with a 70-68 victory. With pool play games against Iran and Tunisia left, the Americans have essentially wrapped up the top spot in Group B and a top seed in the 16-team, single-elimination tournament that begins Saturday.
But, they've got some work to do before they face a win-or-go-home situation against a strong team.
Two different issues, one in each half, plagued the U.S. on Monday.
The first half was very much an offensive one on both ends, with the U.S. Team getting exposed for the first time since exhibition play began.
Brazil's player and ball movement was excellent early on, as they ran multiple screens on and off the ball on most possessions. Point guard Marcelo Huertas was the orchestrator, picking the U.S. defense apart to the tune of six points and five assists in the first half. Center Tiago Splitter (nine points, three assists in the half) was an effective roll man and Leandro Barbosa and Marcus Vinicius (3-for-3 from 3-point range) beat the U.S., too.
The U.S. defense picked up in the second quarter, but Brazil scored 46 points on 40 possessions by halftime. Red hot from the field (58 percent) and from 3-point range (7-for-11), the only thing holding Brazil back was its 11 turnovers.
"They were just killing us on the pick-and-roll," U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Even after timeouts, we were not able to do anything."
"We followed them around instead of stopping them from doing what they wanted to do," said assistant coach Jay Triano.
After halftime, Krzyzewski and his staff decided to defend the pick-and-roll more aggressively. The first time Brazil ran it in the third quarter, Lamar Odom trapped Barbosa beyond the 3-point line, and one lofty cross-court pass later, Brazil had turned the ball over.
On the next possession by Brazil, the U.S. trapped again, resulting in a rushed and contested turnaround jumper by Splitter. With the defensive intensity turned up, the U.S. quickly took the lead and Brazil scored on just 10 of its 37 second-half possessions.
The decision to trap the pick-and-roll was critical to the win in that it increased the U.S. team's energy level and disrupted Brazil's rhythm.
"I thought it changed the game up for us," Chauncey Billups said.
But although they were down just three at halftime and allowed only 22 points thereafter, the U.S. could never pull away. With the starters playing almost the entire second half and expending more energy on defense, the U.S. was sapped. They stood around on offense in the fourth quarter and made just nine of 25 shots after halftime.
The U.S. team had just eight assists on 23 field goals made Monday, and were often forced to rely on the brilliance of Kevin Durant (27 points on 9-of-18 shooting) to keep their offense afloat.
"Our offense was a little stagnant tonight," Billups said. "We don't condone that. We've got to do a better job of trying to get some movement, passing the ball, getting to some mismatches and maybe at the end of the clock, go [isolation] instead of at the start of the clock.
"That's something we've been able to get away with [in the last two games]. When you play against good teams, you can't really get away with that unless somebody's on fire. It's a great lesson for us."
The U.S. scored on just two of their final 11 possessions and needed a strong isolation drive by Billups in the final minute, Huertas' missed free throw with 3.5 seconds to go, and Barbosa's miss at the buzzer to pull this one out. Foul trouble for both Huertas and Splitter, who each picked up their fourth foul in the third quarter, also helped. The absence of Anderson Varejao, who hasn't played since spraining his ankle on Aug. 17, didn't hurt either.
But a win is a win. And after this one, the U.S. has a better idea of what they need to work on before they begin the elimination rounds next Monday.
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