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…
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,
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.