WASHINGTON, D.C. – In front of President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden, the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team picked up an 80-69 exhibition victory over Brazil on Monday.
As the score indicates, the win was neither easy nor pretty. Brazil led 27-17 after the first quarter, and the U.S. scored an even 80 points on 80 possessions, not too efficient given all the offensive talent on the roster.
Shooting was the issue. The U.S. shot just 9-for-33 (27 percent) from outside the paint and players not named LeBron James shot just 4-for-21 (19 percent) from 3-point range. Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant, three of the U.S. Team’s four best scorers, combined to shoot just 9-for-31 overall.
James picked up the slack though, scoring 30 points on 11-for-20 shooting and adding six rebounds and four steals. And while he flourished in transition, he also took advantage of several matchups with the 6-3 Alex Garcia.
Except when it came to LeBron, Brazil had the matchup advantages inside. Big men Tyson Chandler and Kevin Love combined to play less than 25 of the 40 minutes, so the U.S. went small for almost half the game, and wings Andre Iguodala, Bryant and Durant often found themselves matched up with Tiago Splitter, Anderson Varejao and Nene in the paint.
U.S. head coach Mike Krzyzewski believes that the defensive matchups were partly responsible for the offensive struggles.
“When they have to play a big like that,” Krzyzewski said, “there’s a lot of physicality that when you get to the offensive end of the court, it has its impact on you.”
In that way, this was a preview of what the U.S. will have to deal with if or when they play Spain, their biggest threat in London. And the U.S. held its own, really, outscoring Brazil 40-32 in the paint and allowing just six offensive rebounds on 27 missed shots.
“For the most part,” Anthony said, “I think we did a hell of a job of just keeping them off the glass, keeping them out of the paint, keeping them from out the post, where they can be productive at.
And as it has throughout Krzyzewski’s tenure has head coach, the U.S. used its speed and athleticism to its advantage, forcing 26 turnovers and scoring 19 fast break points. After scoring 27 points in the first quarter, Brazil had five points and 12 turnovers in the second.
The only defensive issue the U.S. really had was on the weak side. And they were fortunate that Brazil shot just 4-for-15 from 3-point range (2-for-13 after the first quarter).
“There were certain times where we didn’t do a good job on the backside,” Bryant said. “So when they kick it into the post, whether we’re fronting the post or playing behind and doubling, and they skipped the ball, our rotations were a little late. We gave up a lot of open shots.”
Still, this was a defensive victory for the U.S. After the first quarter, Brazil scored just 42 points on 60 possessions. With a brilliant point guard, shooters on the perimeter, and bigs who finish well, this is a good offensive team. And it struggled once the U.S. locked in defensively.
“We let our offense, early on, mess up the defense,” James said. “Once we decided that we needed to play defense instead of offense, we turned the game around.”
This was a good test for the U.S. And though they fell behind early and never really had much of an offensive rhythm, there was no panic, just focus on the end of the floor they knew they could control.
Now, the U.S. travels to Manchester and then to Barcelona for three more exhibition games before the Olympics. They know the offense needs work, but also that they can depend on their D, no matter how big the opponent is.