POSTED: Jul 23, 2016 10:09 AM ET
LAS VEGAS — Five things we learned from Team USA's 111-74 victory over Argentina Friday night at T-Mobile Arena in the first of its five pre-Olympics exhibition games:
Catch them early, was the best advice anyone could give Argentina. With only four days of practice and no games under the Americans' belts, the veteran-laden visitors -- with current NBA players Manu Ginobili and Luis Scola and former familiar faces Andres Nocioni and Carlos Delfino -- seemed to have at least a small edge over, say, Venezuela and Nigeria, USA's foes next weekend.
Unfortunately, early got ugly.
Argentina missed six of its first seven shots while Team USA was running up a 20-6 lead to start. The gap reached 20 points early in the second quarter, and by halftime, coach Mike Krzyzewski's newly formed squad led 56-33. It had scored 25 points off the 14 turnovers it pressured Argentina into. And led by DeMarcus Cousin's 10 rebounds, it manhandled the visitors inside, with 19-1 edge in offensive boards and 35-15 overall.
Communication and chemistry, the assets that figured to come over time, largely were there from the start.
"We don't have to work on it at all," said Kevin Durant, who led all scorers with 23 points. "When you want to win, chemistry's not a problem.
"The other team is probably banking on us not having chemistry and gelling a little later than we'd want to. But first day, everybody was all-in. Everybody wants to win and it makes it that much easier."
Said Carmelo Anthony, who had 17 points: "The communication is there. We're talking. We're trusting one another, we're believing in one another. We're letting our talent and our skill level show out there.
'We're pros. We respect each other's game. We know what each other can do out there on a basketball court.'
For the record, Krzyzewski said there is terminology to iron out. And at times, he caught players deferring a bit too much. For example, the Duke coach grabbed Toronto's Kyle Lowry and said, "Would you take one shot at least?" "You talk about changing your role from a team that you play on [in the NBA] to this team," Krzyzewski said. "He just wanted to be a point guard for everybody. ... They just naturally are doing what the team needs them to do."
The last time Indiana's Paul George played a game for USA Basketball, it was the ill-fated intrasquad scrimmage in August 2014 in which suffered that horrific fractured right leg and jeopardized his NBA career. But there was George Friday, scoring 18 points off the bench on 7-of-11 shooting, including a couple 3-pointers.
Was this the final step in a two-year grind to get back to this point?
"Really, the final step in the chapter of this is coming home with that gold," George said afterward. "[The injury is] behind me. I don't play the game expecting to get hurt. I know it's a possibility, but there's no thought in my mind that I'm ever going to get hurt."
George said he felt particularly good during pregame warmups and it lasted all night, even when he served as USA's point guard temporarily in the first half.
Krzyzewski seem both happy for George and relieved, knowing this little USA Basketball project on which they embarked didn't prove to be a career killer for him.
"I think he's playing the best basketball of his life," Krzyzewski said. "He is the guy -- I'm not saying the other guys aren't in shape, just not the 100 percent shape they will be in -- but I think he is. Hes probably a guy who never gets that much [out of shape]. He might go to 97. He's just a very gifted athlete and to see him come back like this ... he's a really good guy to coach 'cause you can play him everywhere."
Argentina got outscored in the first, second and fourth quarters by 87-50. But in the third, the visitors played Team USA to a 24-24 standstill. Coach Sergio Hernandez went with more of his NBA players and Krzyzewski wasn't happy with how his guys responded defensively.
"Our guys have to understand, the teams we play internationally are really good spot-up shooters," Krzyzewski said. "All of 'em, they can all shoot. So in your coverages and how you react ... I thought sometimes we didn't make the [right] decision."
He also wasn't happy about the times Team USA players went at Argentina in isolation, but didn't do enough -- in ball movement or cutters -- to ever unseat the defense. "Look, all these teams are good where you're not going to be able to do that," the Duke coach said. "If we just get a little movement and then drive, that would be a key And it shouldn't just be from ball screen, it should be from hit, cut, try to drive elbows, kick -- that type of thing."
On the injury front, Jimmy Butler turned an ankle but wasn't expected to miss any practices or games. Cousins and DeAndre Jordan got winded playing a faster-than-they're-used-to pace. Still, it would have taken a deeper, bigger and more skilled Argentina roster to have made this one competitive.
Said Scola: "Right now, at this point, we can't compete with them. They have much more talent than we do. But we did a pretty good job. We had a couple good moemnts. I think we learned. We got experience. Our young guys get the chance to play with the best, enjoy it, learn.
"I told them in the locker room, the first time we played against the best players in the world, we take pictures. We asked them for their jerseys. They didn't do that, so they start better off."
Cousins and Jordan combined for 21 rebounds and had Krzyzewski effusive about the element of size this edition of Team USA can deploy.
"It's really a different look than we had since '08, and even then, with Dwight [Howard] and Chris Bosh, Chris was like a perimeter big who played unbelievable ball-screen defense," Krzyzewski said. "Those two guys are low post. They work real hard at it.
"The two big guys want to be big guys. They're OK doing all the dirty work, and the rest of the guys love that. When you have big guys who do that, that's a very good thing."
Argentina's centers -- Marcos Nicolas Delia and Roberto Santiago Acuna -- are 26 and 25 years old, respectively. Really no younger than Cousins (26) and Jordan (28) but way more untested and lacking in experience. Acuna did make his presence felt with a feisty first quarter during which he blocked four shots. Overall, though, this was a big mismatch.
"You can't play basketball without size, we all know that," Scola said. "When you have size and athleticism, that's a great advantage. They do have it, they have the best in the world. The best talent, the best size, the best athleticism in the world. We don't."
The USA Basketball records for most 3-pointers made and taken are the 29-for-46 Team USA shot against Nigeria in 2012. So the 14-for-41 (34.1 percent) performance Friday wasn't quite up to their standards.
Krzyzewski didn't quibble with the thinking behind those shots but felt there was room for improvement in execution. Because FIBA rules shave a foot-and-a-half off the arc's distance, players can get lured by that siren song.
"When we started the game, that's all we wanted to do. We took the shot without movement," the coach said. "Again I want them to shoot obviously, they can shoot. But it would be good if we had some movement when we were doing it. And getting a team rhythm doing it."
That came in the second half, when Team USA went 9-for-20, led by Carmelo Anthony's 4-for-4 after halftime. Durant also drained a pair.
"In London, our two leading scorers were KD and Carmelo," Krzyzewski said. "And they shot, total, over 50 percent from the 3-point line. We feel good about our shooting. ... Just so we have a little rhythm going into it. That helps."
They've got a little rhythm going into a pair of games against China's national team Sunday in Los Angeles and Tuesday in Oakland.
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