Perhaps I was being a bit delusional. I really thought that Team USA could win it all this year.
Alas, it was not to be so.
Team USA lost to Greece :-S 95-101. While Team USA only lost by 6, the game itself was never really within reach of Team USA after the half. Greece held onto their halftime lead for almost the entire second half and even extended it to 14 points on solid defense, great movement by their gaurds, and solid offensive execution. The Greeks ran the pic-and-roll to perfection and simply relied on the American's stagnant offense to deny posessions.
Growing up, one of my best friends was half Greek. I can pretty much predict that there's going to be a lot of celebration by the Greek community tomorrow.
The poor shooting really did the team in. Aside from Carmelo Anthony and Kirk Hinrich, the rest of Team USA was just stone cold from the floor, and most importantly, from the line. Clank after clank from the charity stripe. Terrible.
The player I'm most disappointed in is LeBron James. Anytime the ball touched his hand, the offense seemed to stagnate as teams simply let him dribble it out and played solid defense as he lowered his shoulder to drive. On the other hand, the player that impressed me the most was definitely Carmelo Anthony who quietly played an excellent tournament, showing amazing versatility, maturity, and range (not to mention his shooting touch).
I also wonder if the offense would have flowed more smoothly if Brad Miller spent some more time in the lineup. Miller, who, like the Greek big men, is adept at running the pic-and-roll and he has the range to finish inside or out. Not only that, Miller is a superb passer and a very solid big man. It's too bad that he didn't get a lot of playing time. It seemed like Coach K chose to use a smaller lineup for better mobility, but in doing that he sacrificed a great deal of interior defense which allowed the Greek team to get layups almost at will. While Miller isn't going to give you spectacular blocks like Howard or Bosh, his defensive footwork is excellent and a better outside shooter than either.
The most interesting stat of the game? Greece had zero offensive boards in the first half. Jim Durham commented that they made such a high percentage of their shots, there were no offensive boards for Greece to grab.
So what's next for Team USA? Well, they play the winner of the Spain-Argentina game tomorrow so it's not guaranteed that Team USA will even medal at all. It can be argued that both Spain and Argentina are better teams than Greece. Would it be a total disappointment if Team USA didn't medal? Well, let's put things into perspective; these guys had about three weeks to practice and this team is extremely young. Let's not forget that they finished 6th in the 2002 World Championships, so this is a step in the right direction and certainly a learning experience for them.
How can Team USA get better?
First of all, Team USA needs more no-hesitation outside shooters. I wonder how this game would have played out had JJ Reddick been available or if Adam Morrison had made team. "Ammo" is one of those fearless shooters who would have been perfect for this team.
Second, LeBron needs to watch some tapes of this game. With him at the helm, the offense stagnated tremendously. He was Anthony Mason-esque with his over dribbling and use of his shoulder to try to power through people. LeBron needs to look to make the pass earlier in the posession and make some cuts to get towards the basket. When he's good, he's good. But in international play, LeBron was merely so-so.
Third, Coach K needs to spend more time on defense for the next competition. The US is hindered by the fact that they can only play man-to-man as it would appear they never practiced the zone. Greece had the luxury of going to either man coverage or zone, depending on how Team USA was doing. Shooting poorly? Switch on the zone D and essentially shut them out. Hot shooting? Stick to man deny the ball and lock up the shooter. These are the exact tactics that the Greeks used.
Fourth, get more defense oriented point veteran gaurds. Chris Paul had a terrible game and couldn't make any shots; he looked lost on offense for the first time in the tournament. Not only that, Team USA point gaurds simply didn't command the pace and flow of the game by initiating the ball movement. But this is an error of youth and inexperience. With Chauncey Billups at the helm, Team USA would have had a better chance to win this game.
Fifth, Team USA needs some offensive sets in the half court. I mean, they must have known that they couldn't possibly run every team out of the gym, right? They must have known that they would eventually have to play some solid half court ball, right? Well, if they did know, they didn't show it at all. Nothing fancy; just some easy sets/schemes to break out the zone and get out of a funk.
Well, it'll be interesting to see if they even medal this time around. Regardless, big props to these guys for playing their hearts out and commiting the time for Team USA. I'm really looking forward to what these guys can do with a bit more time to gel and play together.
And yes, I stayed up all night to watch this game.