Defensive Adjustments Fuel U.S. Win Over Turkey
Posted Jul 31 2008 5:54PM
MACAO, July 31, 2008 -- The U.S. Men's Senior National Team is looking strong after its first two exhibition games as it prepares for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. On Thursday, LeBron James and Co. stomped Turkey, 114-82 at the Cotai Arena in Macao.
James, named the game's MVP, led the U.S. with 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting and six Americans scored in double-figures, but it was their defense that fueled this victory.
It just took 10 minutes for the fuel to kick in.
The U.S. offense was sharp from the start, but Turkey was able to break through the their D for 30 points in the first quarter, holding a brief 27-24 lead along the way and trailing by just one at the end of the period.
But like they did against Canada in Las Vegas last Friday, the U.S. turned up their defense in the second quarter. Turkey scored just seven points in the second, going scoreless on their final eight possessions of the half, and the U.S. had a 17-point lead at the break.
They forced nine turnovers on 18 Turkey possessions in the second, including one stretch where Turkey turned the ball over six times in seven possessions. So, while the U.S. offense struggled at times in the second, they still won the quarter easily, 23-7.
"I think the first quarter was an adjustment period for us," Kobe Bryant said after the game, "to get used to what they were in and what their sets are. The second quarter, we did a much better job locking in and taking those away."
"We kind of settled down and we understood what we had to do," Jason Kidd added. "We got steals, we got stops and we scored on the other end."
One might think that the U.S. should have been better prepared for what they were going to see from Turkey, but Bryant explained that they didn't have the opportunity to get familiar with this particular Turkish squad.
"It was about reading what they were doing," he explained. "We didn't get a chance to watch too much film, because they're a pretty new team in terms of their personnel."
Turkey was without both Utah's Mehmet Okur and Orlando's Hedo Turkoglu. The reigning Most Improved Player sat courtside in uniform, but wasn't able to play.
"So," Bryant continued, "it was an opportunity for us in the first quarter to get a read of what they were doing, and in the second quarter, try to take away what they were trying to execute. And I felt like we did a much better job."
But others admitted that they were a little too anxious in the first period, looking to win the game in the first few minutes.
"That first quarter we felt we were going to knock 'em out," Kidd said, "but we have to understand we have to stay solid."
"We came out in the first quarter and pressed too much," Dwyane Wade added. "We were excited to play because we haven't played in a while. We were going for too many steals and that enabled them to get a 30-point first quarter."
Indeed, the U.S. guards got beat up top when they gambled, allowing Turkish guards Cenk Akyol and Omer Onan to combine for 13 points in the first.
After that, the U.S. didn't force the issue, but stayed active, using their superior length and athleticism to keep Turkey from staying comfortable offensively. As a result, the turnovers came in bunches.
And the turnovers led to transition, which is were the U.S. Teams flourishes. They even got a handful fast break opportunities when Turkey did score, as Turkey did not do a good job of getting back on defense. In all, they were credited with 27 fast break points, but picked up countless more buckets on the secondary break.
James and Bryant each had five steals apiece for the U.S., cutting across passing lanes and zipping across the lane to intercept an entry pass into the post.
The most impressive steal may have been when the U.S. went small in the middle of the third quarter, with James and Carmelo Anthony playing the four and five against 7-0 Oguz Savas and 6-10 Kerem Gonlum. Savas tried to post James up, but LeBron ripped the ball right out of his hands, leading to a fast break where Bryant hit Anthony with a bounce pass alley-oop.
That wasn't the only highlight for the U.S. There were plenty. When they get out on the fast break, they're lethal. And the break begins with defensive activity and pressure.
"We love defense as a team," Dwyane Wade explained after the game, "because we have a lot of guys who can get at it defensively, cause some havoc and make a lot of plays. Our best offense is off our defense."
But as they learned tonight, being active and aggressive defensively is one thing. They were active and aggressive in the first quarter. But they gambled too much up top and got burned because of it. That was something that both Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski and Assistant Coach Nate McMillan had been clear of earlier in training camp.
"Pressure doesn't mean gamble," Krzyzewski said back in Las Vegas. "Pressure means they know they're being guarded. We have depth, whether it's half court, three quarter or full, we should be on people. They should feel our presence."
Turkey did just that in the final 30 minutes Thursday.
John Schuhmann will be covering USA Basketball through the Beijing Olympics. Send him a question or comment.