USA Beats Nigeria, Spain Squeezes by Great Britain

With group play nearly halfway finished, the Olympic basketball teams are now jockeying for position in the knockout rounds.

Today Spain and Thunder forward Serge Ibaka squared off against the host country Great Britain, where the Spaniards narrowly escaped with a 79-78 victory. Team USA took care of Nigeria with a record-setting 156-73 victory this afternoon.

Up next, Spain will take on Russia and Team USA will play against Lithuania on Saturday.

Team USA vs. Nigeria

The Americans hadn’t hit a three-point shot in the first quarter of either of its first two Olympic games in London. Beginning with Kevin Durant’s corner three-pointer to start the game, Team USA had no problem behind the arc.

Led by an insanely hot-shooting Carmelo Anthony, who scored an American Olympic record 37 points – with 10 three pointers- on 13-for-16 shooting in only 14 minutes of action, USA jumped out to a 49-25 lead after one quarter and never looked back. No one on Team USA played more than 23 minutes on the evening, and every player scored in the record-setting event.

“We locked in for this one,” Anthony said. “It’s a great feeling just for everybody to contribute to the win tonight, everybody to play the way that we played tonight. There’s a lot of USA pride out here right now.”

Durant helped key the initial burst by knocking down three three-pointers in the first quarter, as Team USA jumped out to leads of 13-0 and 20-6. On the day, Durant had 14 points and six assists, helping get his teammates involved as the game went along. By the time Kobe Bryant, who had all 16 of his points in the first half on 6-for-8 shooting got going, the Americans were well on their way to a runaway victory.

“Everybody was just in a really good rhythm,” Bryant said. “We shot the ball extremely well and if we shoot it like that, we become a much, much better team.”

The incredible shooting display seemed to pass from one American hand to the next, as Anthony took the reins from Bryant, then eventually Westbrook, Harden, Deron Williams and Kevin Love each had their turn to knock down shots from behind the arc. Westbrook scored an efficient 21 points on 7-for-8 shooting plus two assists, while Harden chipped in seven points, four assists and two rebounds.

Westbrook also did the job on the defensive end, where Team USA forced 25 Nigerian turnovers, making twelve steals themselves. Westbrook picked up three of those takeaways by pressuring the opposing perimeter players out front. One incredible sequence involved a give-and-go alley-oop between Westbrook and his collegiate teammate, Love, ending in a monstrous one-handed dunk by the Thunder guard. In fact, Westbrook’s athleticism and ability to disrupt opposing ball-handlers and turn it into points prompted NBC’s Doug Collins to relay something USA Basketball Chariman Jerry Colangelo had to say about Westbrook.

“[Jerry Colangelo] talked about that he didn’t know if there was another guy who puts better pressure on the ball anywhere than what Russell Westbrook does when he’s guarding that point guard,” Collins said on the broadcast.

In all, Team USA racked up 41 assists on 59 made baskets, and showed yet again its continued development in becoming a complete team that plays off one another. As the American quest for Olympic Gold continues, head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s club will continue to put its team goals in front of any other objectives.

“We’re a team,” Anthony said. “We’re focused. As a country we’re focused, as basketball players we’re focused. We know what is at stake. We know what we want.”

Spain vs. Great Britain

Ibaka chipped in five points and three rebounds, including two on the offensive end, in addition to an assist and two blocked shots that saved sure layups in 12 minutes of action this afternoon, as his Spanish side survived a scare from Great Britain.

After jumping out to a nine-point lead at the end of the first quarter, Spain coasted and kept the margin hovering in the eight-to-12 point range throughout the second and third quarters. With the London crowd behind them, the Chicago Bulls’ Luol Deng helped lead Great Britain on a charge late in the fourth quarter to rally and pull the game within one point with seven seconds remaining. Spain’s Jose Calderon escaped the Great Britain defenders for long enough to run the clock out, ensuring his side escaped with the win.

As for Ibaka, he displayed characteristics he has become known for in the NBA – his ability to run the floor and block shots- while also using his lower body strength to get position on the block to grab offensive rebounds. The three boards he hauled in today were a result of getting lower than his man on the block then springing to the ball once it hit the rim. On one occasion he was able to tip a ball back in for two points.

The energetic forward clapped his hands with intensity on the defensive end after switching onto a guard, and throughout the day raced down court with ready hands in fast break situations, being rewarded twice for his efforts. Ibaka slammed home a dunk off a behind-the-back pass from Rudy Fernandez and knocked home one-of-two free throws after being fouled on another transition opportunity.

Whether it was playing improved post-up defense by staying between his man and the basket then contesting or making a crisp diagonal bounce pass to assist a shooter in the short corner, Ibaka made an impact on the exciting win despite not putting up massive numbers.

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