Notes From USA 86, Spain 85

Well, that was fun. The U.S. and Spain gave us some great mid-Summer basketball on Sunday, going down to the wire in an entertaining preview of what could be a classic matchup if these two teams were to meet in the medal rounds.

Kevin Durant was the star on both ends of the court. He found his jumper and led all scorers with 25 points on 9-for-16 from the field. And he blocked two Spain jumpers on the final possession to seal the win for the U.S.

That last possession was just the second time (by my count) that the U.S. played zone on Sunday. Gutsy call by Mike Krzyzewski … and it clearly worked, as Ricky Rubio wasn’t able to get into the paint and was forced to take an awkward jumper (the first that Durant blocked).

Overall, the U.S. should be encouraged. They played much sharper than they did against Lithuania on Saturday. They still need to take better care of the ball, but this was clearly a step in the right direction.

Here are some notes from Sunday’s action…

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Each team had 84 possessions, a slightly faster pace than Saturday’s USA-Lithuania game. This one wasn’t as physical as that game either. I watched that one again last night, and I imagine that Durant woke up Sunday morning with quite a few bruises. Lithuania was playing defense with their knees, hips, shoulders and elbows.

Offensive efficiency wasn’t consistent, but overall, it was up from Saturday, with each team scoring just over a point per possession.

***

It’s still clear that the U.S. will rely on its defense to win games. They were able to get out to an early lead by allowing Spain to score just once on its first 12 possessions.

Spain is too good to hold down for 40 minutes, however. They got back into the game by scoring on nine of their first 10 possessions of the third quarter,

This guy can get to the rim. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images)

and they scored 52 points after halftime.

***

In the end, Derrick Rose won the game with his penetration, scoring his team’s final four points off high screen-and-rolls.

***

Turnovers continue to be a problem for the U.S. They committed 20 of them Sunday, many of them unforced. Seven of the turnovers came in the third quarter, when they scored on 11 of their 13 other possessions.

A few of them were travels where the U.S. player lifted his pivot foot before putting his dribble down. Even Saturday against Lithuania, the Spanish fans reacted enthusiastically to these calls, because they thought the U.S. got away with a few of them in the gold medal game in 2008.

Check out this video a Spanish fan sent me two years ago. I got plenty of e-mails after that game about those calls. And remember when a Spanish player threw a towel on the floor from the bench? That was a complaint about the lack of a travel call.

Of course, somehow there was no technical foul called for a towel being thrown on the floor either…

***

After starting the U.S. Team’s first three games (including the close scrimmage vs. China), Rajon Rondo did not play on Sunday. We’ll have to see what the explanation is from Krzyzewski. Perhaps, he wanted to get a good look at Stephen Curry, Eric Gordon and Russell Westbrook before he has to cut one of them. Or perhaps it was a little gamesmanship, not letting Spain get a feel for Rondo’s game.

Either way, it robbed us of our first opportunity to see a Rondo-Rubio matchup, a damn shame.

***

Neither Danny Granger nor Kevin Love played either. We already know that Love is the third big man, and he was also a game-time decision after banging his head on the floor late in Saturday’s game against Lithuania.

Granger didn’t play because Krzyzewski went with just a three-man forward rotation. I thought this might have been a game where we saw Tyson Chandler and Lamar Odom on the floor together, but Chandler’s foul trouble might have prevented that.

Odom got the start at center and finished with 12 points and nine rebounds, but he did have some trouble defending Marc Gasol in the low block.

***

We saw the good and bad of Rubio on Sunday. He can be a pest defensively and a brilliant passer, but he had a costly turnover in the final minutes when he tried to go behind the back in traffic.

***

Interesting tweet from Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress: “Felipe Reyes wants to know why no team in the NBA had any interest in signing him this summer. No explanation here. 8 points in 10 minutes.”

Reyes is certainly a better fit for the international game, but it’s hard to believe that no NBA team could have used his craftiness on their frontline.

***

I’ll make medal picks on the eve of the World Championship, but at this point, I think Spain is my choice to win gold.

***

If you missed it, the game will be replayed on NBA TV at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday, on ESPN2 at 10 p.m. ET on Sunday, and then twice again (9 and 11 p.m. ET) on NBA TV on Monday night.

***

The U.S. travels to Athens tomorrow, and they’ll face Greece there on Wednesday (12 p.m. ET, ESPN). Greece has been destroying its exhibition opponents thus far, so they will be another great test for the Americans.

***

I’ll be heading to Istanbul on Wednesday (arriving Thursday morning). Send an e-mail if you’ve got any recommendations on what to see, or if you’ve got questions or comments about the U.S. Team or the World Championship.

***

More USA Basketball coverage: Analysis | Blog

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.

39 Comments

  1. GANJAMIR says:

    I THINK THE GAME WAS CLOSE BECAUSE OF HOMECOURT ADVANTAGE OF SPAIN,REFEREES ARE FAVOR OF SPAIN NT ITS VERY OBVIOUS BUT USA DIDN’T GIVE UP THEY STILL PALY THE GAME AS IT IS.
    “I THINK SPAIN WILL BE STRUGGLE IN TURKEY CZ COURT IS NOT ON THEIR SIDE FANS WOULD BE BUT U.S.A. IS A GREAT TEAM THEY HAVE THE HEART,PASSION AND YOUNG TEAM WHO CAN PLAY WELL.’
    ARGENTINA IS ONE OF THE TOUGHEST TODAY US WILL WIN GOLD. SPAIN WILL END UP SEMIFINAL

  2. JOHN says:

    It’s a shame americans have opposition from the world. What’s even worse is they get it from americans. You may not like a particular player and he may not have all the skills needed to be considered a great player. But lets look at the facts.
    Besides Odom,Chandler, and Billups how many players have more than 4 years of experience?
    How many players on the world team completed a senior year in college?
    How many of these players are nba champions and have even been in the playoffs?
    How many of the players made the all star team?
    How many of these players are playing there off season time for our country ?

    So if you are american stand up and be proud of our guys root for them to suceed and not to fail. By the way non of these players have run these playes there running and it doesn’t matter if you see a play in world play or not it all comes down to game execution.
    GO USA!!!

  3. Salva says:

    Would like to see them facing each other again in the final, but with the americans not being allowed to break FIBA rules this time

  4. Julio says:

    The most important factor of the gaem was that Spain don´t show everybody our real weapons and defensive-offensive plans all over the game. USA did…becasuse they need it for win us 1 point over…take care US cause you will need it…the silver medal it will be for you…

  5. kam_soluusar says:

    I like that Australia is not even rating a mention. This is good, we love being underdogs. Only 2 players on our team are in our national league, two in the NBA, and the rest in Europe. I look forward to Patty Mills torching people off the dribble. this is going to be an entertaining World Championships.

  6. jojo says:

    Art. 36. LeBron may take as many steps as he wants before realeasing the ball.

  7. Ronron says:

    Hope the coach gives Granger some time tommorrow.I think Granger is a better shooter than Igadola and Gay from the outside.When the real games start you can’t slash against a zone defense.

  8. Manning says:

    Please don’t sleep at the Worlds Boys! Based on that performance, I can’t see us winning the Gold. European teams will come out harder when it counts! Look at what happened in ’06 against Greece! That was even with LBJ, Wade, Bosh, Dwight & Melo. Either we swallow our pride in thinking the sun shines out our a@#$ or we’re going to lose another WC’s! My picks: Greece (The best pick & roll basketball in Europe), Spain (The greatest talent outside the USA), Argentina (Experienced campaigners) and USA(NBA Talent). Be Careful of: Australia (Even without Bogut & Jawai, are strong with Anderson, Mills, Ingles, Newley & Nielsen. Coached by Spurs ass-Brett Brown. Team has something to prove), Russia (Consistently strong former Euro Champs), Puerto Rico (Carlos knows how to get his team to play well against USA) & Germany (Former NBA MVP; Dirk!)

    It’s the USA’s Ships to Lose!

  9. Rip Greenfire says:

    These two teams got some strength and weaknesses. If you ask me, Rondo’s ballhandeling and Granger’s shooting touch will give a great offensive boost to the team. With Calderon out, Spain has taken a mighty blow. Let’s also not forget Rudy Gay, who played terribly, but has done well in every other game.

    I really can’t say who’s gonna win, but it’s USA’s game to lose.

  10. exhibition says:

    the game was pretty nice, both teams played hard. It’s sad that Calderon got hurt so unfortunate, maybe that’s why rondo didn’t play. But I gotta say the officiating was poor. Travels didn’t get called on both sides, but still the U.S. players should be paying more attention to the international rules, no matter what u think of them. What are the rules for if nobody follows them and nobody keeps an eye on them, like the officials last night. And then the last foul call on spain. clearly an offensive foul by rose, that led to the eventual game winning free throws. I mean what more can you do to get an offensive foul call. U.S. shouldn’t be too proud of this game after all. And players and coaches should be allowed to comment on officials. As we saw last night you can’t just give them a free card to do whatever. Everybody has to deal with criticism on their job.
    And to the blog:
    “And remember when a Spanish player threw a towel on the floor from the bench? That was a complaint about the lack of a travel call.

    Of course, somehow there was no technical foul called for a towel being thrown on the floor either…”
    Are you serious this is your pointing finger response?

  11. ZenDoc says:

    We are all assuming that one of 3 Guards will be cut from the team to reach the roster limit of 12 players, but is it really that crazy to think that Coach K just might keep 6 guards on the team plus 3 wings and 3 post players? I don’t think so. All the guards are very talented – they are clearly the strength of the team. As a group, they are very fast, play great defense, run the floor very well, see the floor and pass well, and shoot well. To keep the defensive pressure on and keep on running the ball at breakneck speed, Coach K will need to substitute often. I love Derrick Rose at the point or Russell Westbrook. Westbrook brings incredible energy to the team and does everything well. He’s an in-your-face defender, gets more steals and more rebounds than the other guards, runs like a cheetah, penetrates very well, and can shoot much better than most people think. It would be suicide to cut him. He showed his value this weekend. But Team USA also has to have good, quality 3-point shooters on the team. Do we have 2 better shooters on the team than Steph Curry and Eric Gordon? I don’t think so, and that may be the key as to who gets cut. I love those 2 guys as our outside threats as well as Kevin Durant and Chauncey Billups. If those 2 can be more productive than Danny Granger, say, then he may be the one to be cut, even though he’s 6’8″ and the team really lacks height.

    But do we need height more than marksmanship? We have to stay hot from the outside to open up the driving lanes. Kevin Durant is 6’10″ and he’ll be in the game most of the time in all the games. Either Lamar Odom at 6’10″ or Tyson Chandler at 7’1″ will be in the game almost all the time at the 5 with Kevin Love at 6’10″ to back them up or back up K.D. We’ll have at least 2 of our 6 guards in the game all the time, which only leaves one spot to fill – the 3, which will be split between the 6’6″ Andre Iduodala and the 6’8″ Rudy Gay. So, do we really need another 6’8″ forward who may not score as much as the 2 shooting guards? I think Danny Granger is very talented. If you thought that he could rebound as well as Kevin Love, then you could make an argument to cut Kevin Love, but Love can play the 5 and Granger cannot. I know that this would leave us vulnerable up front if anyone gets injured, but, I think that it gives us the best shot at winning the Gold as long as everyone stays healthy. We need race horses and the pressure defense.

  12. go spain! says:

    Spain had a terrible star of game, we (i´m spanish) play asleep and fearfully the first half. Calderon was very unlucky in the leadership of the game losing some balls, only a few flashes of Navarro and Ricky saved us.

    Moreover I also left with the desire to see rondo, granger and love.

    PD: Calderon was injured in his right leg (yesterday game, 6 minutes to the end) and is low for the Worlds, he will be replaced by an old acquaintance of your league: former Jazz Raul Lopez.

    Good luck USA! You will need it.

  13. TEAMUSA2010 says:

    good work john. i miss the days when NBA.com used to have photos of the team @ the airport and outside of the ball court. i don’t think GREECE is gonna be as tough as it would have pre fight. those guys know what happened to them in 08 and they know we have a different program. their players are the same. but their missing their foundation Papaloukas. that fight shows the basketball world they have no leadership. Yannakis no longer coaching as well. the final mindbender USA together for a month, 12 man overhaul 2 intl games together just took out an undefeated WC in SPAIN come on. the environment will definitley be more hostile but after the Lithu./Spain games & preparation we’re good. who are we kidding GREECE isn’t fully stacked and their minds are more concerned w/their top guys not getting suspended from tournament. come on JOHN you’ve been covering USA long enough to give them some props. damn we get more props from other countries than our own.

  14. zay says:

    good scrimmage both teams wanted the win, i never give any team an excuse for losing in the end the better team won.
    Zone or no Zone USA is gone to score they just need to play threw the whistles.

  15. CyberCosmiX says:

    Lamar Odom was/is the key to Team USA. He is so versatile it’s amazing, on one play he defended a shot, grabbed the rebound, sprinted upcourt, beat the entire Spain defense to the rim and layed it in. These international teams with plodding centers have no shot against him when he does those things. Billup’s two-man game with Lamar is building up into the U.S. goto play when they’re on the floor together.

    Rose was also outstanding, not to mention the dependable scoring that Durant adds. Seems like the U.S. has been simply going through the motions in their exhibitions/practice games. Finally did we see USA ramp it up a bit in the 4th quarter against Spain. Nice win, it’s been fun watching basketball in July and August, I can’t wait for next week’s games.

    GO USA!!!!!!!

  16. MSL says:

    If Rose didn’t score those last 4 points, he would of been the Goat. His turn overs, forced shots and missed passes to open team mates could of cost the US. Most games will not be like this. Spain was pourous in their defense, played no zone and played a faster tempo.

    Greece and some of the other teams will play a much more physical, sluggish game with a zone.

  17. MSL says:

    Ahhhhm Tenki.

    Rajon is much faster!!! Lol.

    Even if Rubio is the Spanish Rondo, he’s still not as quick or as fast. So all things being equal; Rondo could have an advantage there. I’m not saying he does (though I would bet he does). But We’ll see.

  18. Lionel Roger MD says:

    We cannot count on 25 points every night from Durant, somebody else will have to score because from now on every opponent will be on Durant like flies on a cake. Hopefully neither Odom or Love will get hurt because Tyson Chandler is abominable-all he does is get in foul trouble and he doesn’t score any points. And Love, although a Lambeer-type player, has e tendency to injuries because he has not yet mastered control of his own body. So our big man situation is fragile. Iguodola still makes too many bone-head plays and goes for low percentage shots in crucial situations, he needs to score more inside and stay away from the 3 point line. Gay is the only hope to help Durant in the scoring column.
    Granger has a look of “deer-in-the headlights” on his face ever since he got to Europe and seems befuddled by it all-if he’s cut USA won’t lose a step-at least Westbrook, Gordon and Curry have Heart and energy. The key men in the USA Team are Durant, Rose and Odom-if either one gets hurt, tired or has an off night, we’re done.
    In the face of these facts, we don’t have enough horses for the Gold.

  19. Charles says:

    Well, I guess Team USA better be prepared to lose, because at one point win over Spain might as well as been a one point loss. Spain never plays their best in exhibition games, they play to get a feel for the other team, and if they can keep it close, well that’s just a bonus, if they can win even more of a bonus. exhibition games mean nothing to them. USA, however, is not too much different from exhibition to games that actually count. I hope I am wrong but I don’t feel like I am.

  20. Amani says:

    In the NBA, they don’t call those travels because it’s a non-isse. Honestly, I don’t care if LeBron takes 3 steps instead of two when he receives the ball, and I DEFINITELY don’t care if Corey Brewer takes three steps before he demolishes Derek Fisher, because that is entertaining.

    I’ll take entertainment value over pedantic regulation any day.

    NBA players do travel. A lot. But you’re right. ‘Release the ball’ and ‘pivot foot’ are relative terms. Let me tell you one thing though, in Australia, the travel calling is ridiculous

  21. Mtx says:

    I think the NBA players got used to the refs allowing them to get away with travelling violations.

    About the USA center, this shows that whit the current FIBA rules, the center position has diminished importance compared to the NBA. Basically, the center just needs to fill the middle of the paint, as there is no semi-circle. If he can do other things like score, good.

    Lamar is gonna have a rough time guarding opposing centers. he is the guy that got destroyed by Big Baby Davis at some moments in the NBA Finals.

  22. [...] 3 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks — and he struggled to hold onto the ball (5 turnovers). But as John Schuhmann of NBA.com wrote: “In the end, Derrick Rose won the game with his penetration, scoring his team’s [...]

  23. antawn says:

    Its clear that the Americans still have the edge and superiority in Basketball as far as individual talent is concerned… Will you just look at Kevin Durant! But USA has to continue its basketball program for the International arena because the World is already catching up (and did catch up…I mean, the last Dream team was the ’96 team that still had that ability to overwhelm opponents but that’s over now, players outside of the United States have learned to adapt, just look at the NBA MVPs over the last decade and you’ll see a German and a Canadian winning, twice even for the Canadian dude. So the game has greatly evolved, and who knows? The next Michael Jordan could come from Istanbul…Ok, not Hedo.

  24. john says:

    That’s the explanation of the lack of a travel call? That the other team throw a towel? I expect that from a kid, but from you…

  25. aticodejon says:

    That is exactly the point: under FIBA rules you cannot take even one step prior to releasing the ball. All you are allowed to do is pivot on one foot, and then of course, you cannot move that pivot foot. Just in yesterdays game the us team were allowed to break the rule in many ocasions.

    Now, not many people over here in Spain debate the stupidity of that rule, it should have been gone long ago, but in the meantime, nobody except your team is allowed to ignore it altogether. Yesterday was the first time I have seen referees even pretending to pay some attention to the travelling violations.

  26. Dee says:

    USA Gold easy call. They beat Spain at home..Need I say more?

    • Kaneda1975 says:

      Dee….. honestly, half americ-half spanish and I tell you this final round won´t be easy for US. I enjoyed this game for the both side but I saw some underrated thing in Spain that make me be confident about an WF game. Also had a great vision of Durant (again….. there is the NBA´s future shown to all the Globe). Don´t be so sure…. Spain is a very great team, honestly.

  27. lmd says:

    Spain will be a threat thats for sure

  28. morengo says:

    I can tell you that Spanish people still feel that they got robbed two years back in the Olympics final because of this travelling violation. As a matter of a fact, there were a few banners in “La caja magica” (the venue of yesterday’s clash) displaying sentences like “Just two steps” etc. If these games are played under FIBA rules, USA players should just adjust their game. That’s all. Otherwise, the officials will have to dare to whistle.

  29. tenki says:

    About the traveling violation: this particular violation must be checked accordingly by both the NBA and FIBA, because if you are an avid viewer of the game, this call is subject to inconsistencies. Many NBA superstars get away with it. If you take a closer look at the violation at the sample video, some players in the NBA does it most of the time. I won’t name such superstars, but you have to learn and see that it should be reviewed by the referees of the game. Heck, I even observed that some officials blow the whistle when the TV commentators notice it.

    As for the Rondo-Rubio matchup, I think that it should be a great one. Youth shouldn’t be much of a factor, because both of them are still young. Tenacity and passion are their trademarks, and so are making opportunities to their teammates. Experience will be a very big difference, although Rubio has played exclusively at Europe. I don’t see anything that Rondo has an advantage, except for the fact that he has a title with the Celtics, orchestrating his team efficiently, considering the fact that Boston is stacked. I’m looking forward to seeing them play against each other in the World Championships, as well as in the NBA in the near future.

  30. al says:

    Spain played with 12 players in the first half and did not use zone defense nor clutch plays. They did not want to show anything to US, while coach K basically showed everything including that high smart last defense zone that won’t surprise any team anymore. Spain’s last time out was pathetic as we could watch it on Spanish TV. No play no nothing, i think it was on purpose. Scariolo is not a dumbass.
    Medals are going to be hard to get, Argentina, Brasil, Greece, Serbia, Turkey, US and Spain will be hard to beat and that is 7 teams. But I still think Spain and US are a little step ahead. Although I totally agree Spain is favorite for Gold.
    Reyes is a beast and has always been, already in 2002 WC destroyed US team, he is Scola type of player and sure would help in the NBA.
    Rubio is ready for the NBA. Rose and Curry commited 9 turnovers, 4 of them stole by Rubio. He set the pace of the game. Just a little note, with Rubio on court Spain went +14.

    • Krespino says:

      Turkish team is in terribly bad shape, they will be a big failure. I wonder what state Jorge Garbajosa of Spain is; if he is healthy he may make an impact in the real USA-Spain match.

  31. Johny says:

    Entertaining blog as always.

    Nice game ESP – USA., had perfect time :0

  32. will li says:

    Team usa’s defence intensity drop a notch in 2nd half, and they slow down the tempo a bit,maybe some quick early fouls limited their primeter aggrassiveness. they went into more of a half-court mode,in which they are visibale no match to well-organised euro-sides.

    PickNroll defence still a big issue, spaniard gets consecutive easy baskets to put up a 8-0 rally ,erase the 10 point deficit,the last minute zone defence is a joyful surprise though.

  33. J'Rod says:

    From the tagged video… definitely a travelling violation…

    however, there are times where athletic US players’ feet just move faster than their hands could dribble, that is why it seems they have stepped too many times before they dribble–but what may actually happen is as they catch the ball and as they are about to dribble the ball, their feet just moves faster and made a few steps…. that is just how I think what is happening (I may be wrong…)

    Plus, NBA basketball (highly entertaining) is so much different than international play anyway…