Posted by John Schuhmann
NEW YORK – The U.S. National Team got their first taste of international competition with a closed scrimmage against China on Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. With the Garden about 95 percent empty, it wasn’t quite the same atmosphere as when these two teams last met (opening night of the 2008 Olympics).
The score was reset after each quarter, but in total, the U.S. won 98-51. China, however, did win the fourth quarter 17-16.
Danny Granger led all scorers with 22 points on 9-for-12 shooting (3-for-4 from 3-point range). Rudy Gay had seven rebounds and Rajon Rondo had seven assists.
Starters: Rajon Rondo, Chauncey Billups, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant and Tyson Chandler
Score: USA 20, China 11
Lamar Odom was the first sub, checking in for Chandler and playing in the five. Then Derrick Rose and Stephen Curry subbed in for Rondo and Billups. After that, Rudy Gay replaced Iguodala and Danny Granger replaced Durant.
Though the U.S. struggled a bit offensively out of the gate (scoring on just three of their first nine possessions), they held China scoreless for their first six possessions and jumped out to a 7-0 lead.
Then things picked up offensively when Granger came in. He scored his team’s final 10 points of the quarter: a left wing three off a drive-and-kick from Rose, a pull-up elbow jumper, a contested layup on the break, and a right-wing three against a zone.
Starters: Rose, Eric Gordon, Iguodala, Durant, Odom
Score: USA 27, China 15
Another 7-0 start for the U.S., with Durant having his hands in all seven. On the second possession of the quarter, China went to zone, but somehow left the NBA’s leading scorer all alone at the foul line. Result: Easy 15-foot turnaround jumper. He then got a dunk on a break and fed Gordon for a right-wing three on the possession after that.
China committed nine turnovers in the period, resulting in 19 of the U.S. Team’s 27 points. The U.S. got out on the break plenty in this quarter, with Durant, Iguodala and Gay all getting highlight dunks.
Midway through the quarter, China was in a zone and their coach Bob Donewald Jr. shouted out “Back of 41! Not a shooter!” No. 41 is Derrick Rose, and he promptly nailed a wide-open three from the right wing. Oops.
Starters: Rondo, Gordon, Durant, Granger, Chandler
Score: USA 35, China 8
The U.S. played zone for the entire 10 minutes, and this was their most effective quarter. They forced another nine China turnovers, held them scoreless for one stretch of 11 straight possessions, and won the period 35-8.
Gordon caught fire for a bit in the middle of the period and Russell Westbrook had a pair of highlight dunks off of turnovers in the backcourt.
Starters: Rose, Westbrook, Iguodala, Gay, Durant
Score: China 17, USA 16
Yes, you read that lineup right. Durant was the center of a 2-3 zone, and China started the period with 7-foot-3 Zhang Zhaoxu on the floor. Afterward, U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said that this lineup was a bit of an experiment.
“That last period is all experimentation,” the coach said.
The U.S. struggled more offensively than defensively in this quarter though. They scored just 11 points on their first 17 possessions, committing three turnovers along the way.
The quarter was tight throughout and the U.S. took a 14-13 lead when Tyson Chandler blocked a Yi Jianlian drive and Eric Gordon got a fast-break dunk on the other end.
Gordon then fouled Liu Wei on the perimeter. Liu put China back up at the line, but Gordon answered back by drawing a foul on Yi and hitting both free throws.
So China had the ball, down 16-15 with 12.9 seconds left. The U.S. pressured them and they looked like they weren’t going to get a good shot off, but Granger was whistled for bumping Liu at the foul line with 1.3 seconds to go.
After Liu hit both freebies to put China up 17-16, Krzyzewski called timeout and drew up a play for either Gordon or Granger to get a shot. The ball went to Gordon and his fading three from the left wing fell short.
Neither Jeff Green nor JaVale McGee played at all. Official cuts have not been made yet, but it’s clear that Green and McGee will be two of the three. The team will probably still take McGee on their trip to Europe, however, just in case Tyson Chandler gets hurt before the World Championship begins.
The third cut? I think that one may be a much tougher decision. And it may not be made until closer to the World Championship.
“After the game tomorrow, we’ll make a decision to probably [make cuts],” Krzyzewski said. “But I’m not sure we’ll get down to 12.
“We want to go through tomorrow and not make decisions that we’ll regret a week from now. A week from now, we’ll be playing Lithuania (Aug. 21) and Spain (Aug. 22) in Madrid. And that type of situation will give us much more knowledge of how to pick the 12 than [the China scrimmage and France exhibition].
So they’re clearly not ready to make that final cut. It may be between Stephen Curry and Eric Gordon, but I think Russell Westbrook is also a possibility if they’re happy with three point guards on the roster.
Kevin Love played just 4 1/2 minutes, but that was more about his bruised calf than about his status on the team.
“I thought he attempted to play, but you could tell that he’s not 100 percent right now,” Krzyzewski said.
Love did have one of the nicer assists of the game, an inbounds baseball pass to Derrick Rose for a layup off a made free throw.
The U.S. pressed the entire game. Sometimes it was a man press, and sometimes it was a zone with a two-man front. It also varied in intensity. Obviously, the primary intent is to force turnovers, but even if they don’t, they’d like to take several seconds off the shot clock before their opponent gets into their offense. And China did have a few 24-second violations today.
Krzyzewski: “A victory for us will be to take five or six seconds off the clock.”
The half-court zone was pretty darn effective. We may see more of it than the staff had originally planned.
With Granger recovering from his finger injury and playing so well today, you can definitely add him to the forward rotation that I wrote about on Thursday. That means that Odom and Love will play almost exclusively at center and that Green and McGee would be needed only for emergencies.
“The three and the four, with Durant, Gay, Granger and Iguodala, is pretty solid,” Krzyzewski said. “And actually the five, with those two guys [Love and Odom] is good. So who do you want to be insurance or a back-up for a big?”
Rebounding was pretty solid for the U.S. China had nine offensive boards on 37 missed shots.
Krzyzewski: “I thought the attempt to rebound by everybody was there today.”
I wrote a story for this morning on turnovers and how they should be a concern for the U.S. Thursday’s intrasquad scrimmage at Radio City Music Hall was sloppy to say the least, and while I think you can blame the poor shooting on the odd setting, I don’t think there’s much of an excuse for the 27 turnovers the two teams committed. But the U.S. took care of the ball much better today than they did on Thursday. Just 11 turnovers total.
Durant finished with 14 points, but shot just 5-for-14 from the field. No one else shot particularly bad or (other than Granger) particularly well.
Thirty of the U.S. Team’s 75 field goal attempts were from 3-point range. They shot 11-for-30 from beyond the arc and 24-for-45 from inside it.
Rondo is Jason Kidd. He took just one shot, didn’t score a point, and dished out a game-high seven assists.
Tomorrow brings a real exhibition game against France, which you can watch live on ESPN2 at 1 p.m. ET. We’ll have a full preview of that on the site shortly. Don’t expect the French to be much of a test. They just lost two games to Canada by a combined 33 points.
Following the U.S.-France game, China will take on Puerto Rico. NBA TV will have that one at 3:30 p.m. ET.
Here’s a good read on JaVale McGee from Michael Lee of The Washington Post. I had no clue that McGee had asthma, and apparently, neither did he until late last season.
John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Follow him on twitter.