LAS VEGAS – All-Star center Al Horford has seen some of the competition the U.S. team will face in the Olympic Games in London. And after he and his teammates from the Dominican Republic were run off the floor by the U.S. Thursday night at UNLV, things have come into focus for him in regards to what will go down when the competition begins.
The U.S. will always win an unfair fight, he said after watching his team lose 113-59. But he also warned that there will be no cakewalks on the road to gold in London.
“Russia is pretty good. Spain is pretty good,” Horford said. “Those are going to be their bigger challenges. Russia is big and athletic and they play well together. Against us, it’s not really a fair gauge for them [the U.S. team], but they’re going to have their hands full with Spain and Russia.”
That said, Horford saw enough Thursday night from familiar faces like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Andre Iguodala and others to know that if the U.S. plays their game, few teams, if any, will be able to stay with them in London.
Durant led the U.S. with 24 points off the bench and made five of his six shots from beyond the 3-point line. He also grabbed 10 rebounds. Iguodala added 18 points off the bench, making four of his six shots from distance. James (13) and Kevin Love (11) were the only other players to reach double figures in scoring.
“It felt good to me,” Durant said. “It was cool to come off the bench for the first time. Wherever they need that spark, I’m going to try to come out and give them that spark. So I was looking forward to having different roles playing with USA, so it was kind of fun for me, actually.”
It was no fun for the Dominican Republic, coached by Kentucky coach John Calipari and featuring Horford and Kings swingman Francisco Garcia.
“Durant, the way he’s shooting the ball, is just too much,” Horford said, “They can create problems for so many other teams. We played Russia and we played some of these other teams and we could get into our offense. Tonight, we couldn’t even get into our offense. If they keep playing defense that way, and speeding up the game that way, they’ll have an advantage against those bigger teams. If they have a smashmouth game they could have some problems. But if Iguodala keeps shooting like that, and KD, they’ll be fine.”
As crazy as it sounds, and with yet another big man (Blake Griffin) going down with an injury that will cost him his spot on the team, a smashmouth style of defense is the one thing you can count on from this team from now until their run in London ends. (And for the record, Anthony Davis looked pretty good in his debut.)
Cranking up their ball pressure and creating turnovers, they scored 38 points off of 27 turnovers for the Dominican Republic, will indeed be this team’s hallmark.
“Our ball pressure is ridiculous,” Paul said.”The amount of ball pressure we can put on guys, especially at the guard position with me , D.Will and Russ, and then Kobe and then all of those other guys, we should give everybody hell just about every night.”
Without a bona-fide inside game and with shooters always going through their ups and downs, the staples for this team, just like all of the others Mike Krzyzewski has coached during his time with USA Basketball, will be built around the their speed, athleticism and versatility.
“That’s how it’s going to be for us,” James said. “It’s gonna start with defense and defensive rebounding. We get stops and we’;ll give ourselves a chance to win every game. We want to use our speed, athleticism and our ability to guard multiple positions and we did that.”
The size disadvantages the U.S. will face can be offset with a deep team filled with flashes, in addition to Durant coming off the bench they also had Westbrook, Williams (in the first half) and Harden playing off the bench. That sort of depth allows a team to play a riskier style and gamble on defense in ways that usually aren’t done.
And that’s just the way Krzyzewski prefers it to be.
“The way we’re playing is exactly the way we should play,” he said. “With this group of athletes and with the depth that we have … we have good depth, especially on the perimeter.”
Whether that’s enough to get them past he likes of Russia and Spain, or even Brazil in the next exhibition game Monday in Washington, remains to be seen.
But it was more than enough in the opener!