Center's activity on both ends gets U.S. into gold medal game
POSTED: Aug 19, 2016 10:22 PM ET
USA center DeAndre Jordan (6), who had nine points, 16 rebounds and four blocks, dunks the ball past Spain center Pau Gasol (4) during the men's basketball semifinal match in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
RIO DE JANEIRO — Before the United States Men's National Team's quarterfinal game against Argentina on Wednesday, head coach Mike Krzyzewski decided to make a lineup change, starting DeAndre Jordan at center in place of DeMarcus Cousins.
Two games later, the change has benefited the U.S. in two different ways, and the Americans are one win away from a third straight Olympic gold medal.
In Wednesday's win over Argentina, it was the bench -- with Cousins alongside Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler, (starter) Kevin Durant and Paul George -- that made the difference in the Americans' 27-point win. Cousins actually looked like a decent defender while playing with the rest of the group. And on Friday, Krzyzewski looked like a genius again, because it was Jordan who helped the U.S. get off to its best start of the tournament on its way to an 82-76 win over Spain.
The U.S. offense was never pretty on Friday. It only once scored on more than three straight possessions. Kevin Durant (14 points on 6-for-13 shooting) and Kyrie Irving (13 points on 5-for-9) were held in check. Klay Thompson led the U.S. with 22 points, but had rough moments shooting. After scoring 129 points per 100 possessions through its first six games, the U.S. scored just 82 points on 74 possessions (111 per 100) on Friday.
The second half (37 points on 39 possessions) was particularly ugly. This was not a repeat of the last two gold medal games in which the U.S. beat Spain 118-107 and 107-100.
"It was a different type of game," Krzyzewski said afterward. "It was a very hard game. It wasn't easy flowing and both teams had to make big plays."
Jordan made a lot of them. With the 6-11 center being disruptive on pick-and-rolls and at the rim, a potent Spanish team was held to just three scores on its first 10 possessions, allowing the U.S. to build an early, 14-7 lead that it never gave up. Jordan blocked Nikola Mirotic on Spain's third possession, deflected a Sergio Llull pass on the next one, and forced Llull into shooting a tough, rainbow foul-line jumper two possessions after that.
"The key of the game was their defense, their athleticism, their size," Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said. "They made our offense get difficult during most possessions."
Pau Gasol led all scorers with 23 points, but needed 19 shots to get them. Jordan allowed him some open threes, but forced him into tough shots in the paint and a few turnovers.
Every night, somebody else has stepped up for the U.S. Carmelo Anthony, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and Paul George have all had their signature games. Though he scored just nine points and made just one of his four free throws, this game belonged to Jordan.
"He's locked in," Lowry said. "He wants this medal. He wants it really bad. I think we all want it and tonight he just led by example. We just feed off his energy."
DeAndre Jordan on Contribution to Team USA
DeAndre Jordan talks about his contribution to Team USA in their quest to bring home the gold medal.
That energy came on both ends of the floor. Jordan not only affected Spain's shots and passes, he helped get his team extra possessions. Jordan was only credited with three offensive rebounds, but got his hands on a couple of others. The U.S. finished with 21 offensive boards and 25 second-chance points.
"His activity sometimes didn't translate in the stats," Krzyzewski said, "but it translated into disruptive play or taking away from the continuity that Spain normally has."
Jordan's skill set isn't necessarily a great fit for the international game, which values spacing and perimeter shooting. But his combination of size and athleticism can overwhelm smaller, more ground-bound opponents. And every single opponent is smaller or more ground-bound.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Spanish veteran Juan Carlos Navarro thought he had a clear lane to the basket on a fast break. But Jordan came along and erased Navarro's shot, his fourth block of the afternoon. And by the end of the game, he had 16 rebounds.
Krzyzewski has shuffled his lineups (both the starting lineup and bench units that get extended run) much more than usual in this tournament. But he's seems to have found a formula that works. Cousins better complements the defensive perimeter of Lowry, Butler and George, while Jordan fits better on the starting lineup with an offensive backcourt of Irving and Thompson.
As he is with the LA Clippers, he's the role-playing complement to the stars.
"I have one job on this team and that's to come out and play with as much energy as I can on both ends of the floor," Jordan said. "I'm used to doing that. That's the type of player that I am, so it just comes naturally. Anything I can do for this team to help us advance and keep winning, I'm going to do that. And I take pride in it."
On some days, when the stars are getting theirs offensively, Jordan will take a back seat. And on others, the U.S. needs exactly what he brings. Friday was one of those days.
"We wouldn't play for the gold medal," Krzyzewski said, "if DeAndre didn't play that well."
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