Late in what became a USA Basketball 119-84 victory over the Czech Republic Saturday, Bulls guard Zach LaVine was battling Patrick Auda on a switch into the paint. LaVine fronted and then pushed around to the 6-9 Auda's side as the one time Seton Hall player and veteran European forward called for the ball. LaVine's denied the opening and the ball was passed to the other side of the court.
Auda was determined not to be denied in this sweaty dance. He maneuvered along the baseline and came out the other end, his clever teammates bouncing a pass into him. But LaVine was proving even more resolute. He pushed his body into Auda's, not allowing him the space the bigger Czech players used to take an early double digit lead on the U.S. team. LaVine finally knocked the ball away, Auda grasping at air and stumbling as the ball scooted out of bounds toward USA coach Gregg Popovich. As the ball was being retrieved, Popovich grabbed LaVine and, according to the announcers present in Tokyo, was saying, "That's what we're talking about."
Just like the final score than enabled the USA team after a disappointing loss to open Olympic Group play to advance to the single elimination knockout round quarterfinals starting Tuesday.
"Our defense did a really good job of picking up and getting to the ball and then being able to rebound," said Jrue Holiday, who helped hold Bulls guard and Czech star Tomas Satoransky to 12 points. "First quarter they were throwing it into the paint, throwing it into the bigs and doing whatever they wanted to. I think for us that's just attention to detail, trying to front that post, trying to make it hard for them."
LaVine with 13 points and five assists without a turnover was among those USA players performing that role after the inefficient start.
Zach LaVine scored 13 points off the bench in the win vs. Czech Republic
Jayson Tatum led the USA team with 27 points to break his shooting slump and Kevin Durant in becoming the all-time USA Men's Basketball scoring leader led the USA from the early deficit with 23 points on eight of 11 shooting with team highs of eight rebounds and six assists. Holiday added 11 points for the USA team that made 20 of 42 three pointers after missing eight of their first 12.
It's a USA team built for shooting and speed, which opponents have tried to take advantage of with inside power. The Czech Republic with a pair of seven footers did early in a game in which the loser likely would be eliminated from the basketball tournament. They took a 9-2 lead and 19-9 going inside against the same starting lineup of Durant, Damian Lillard, Bam Adebayo, Devin Booker and Holiday. That sent the U.S. team into an early timeout with former Loyola scoring star Blake Schilb leading the Czech team. He led the Czech Republic with 17 points on five of six threes.
The U.S. began to recover as Durant found LaVine for an open three and then the Bulls uncanny shooter made the most magical shot of the game, an off balance, line drive three against pressure with the shot clock expiring. That got the USA team back within 21-15 and trailing 25-18 after the first quarter.
While the game was vital for both teams facing elimination with one loss each in group play, there also was the personal contest of teammates LaVine and Satoransky. Holiday and LaVine mostly defended the Czech team leader with a LaVine/Satoransky Bulls scrimmage breaking out early in the second quarter when Satoransky beat LaVine for a score on a step through move in the halfcourt. LaVine immediately went back at Satoransky with a crossover drive in transition and blow by to get the USA within 31-29.
Though Sunday could be a bigger day for Satoransky's Bulls future with the deadline for the Bulls to fully guarantee his contract for next season.
Durant surpassed the all-time USA scoring total shortly thereafter and the USA team began to assert control with a 47-43 halftime lead.
The USA team's pressure defense on the ball began to create problems for the Czech team after halftime. LaVine contributed to that as soon as he reentered the game in the third quarter with a steal leading to a three pointer and 71-58 lead. That was part of a 16-2 close to the quarter for an 82-60 USA lead after three. That was extended in the fourth quarter on stretching-their-legs transition plays like when LaVine grabbed a rebound and streaked Mask-like full court for a layup score.
LaVine finished making five of seven shots with three of five threes and the team's third best efficiency and plus/minus rating. And USA Basketball gets to play into August.