HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — When the U.S. Men’s Senior National team takes the floor, be it in a “friendly” or real competition, winning is never enough.
It’s always about style points and the opponent and whether or not the U.S. team looked as good as they could have or should have. Those aren’t are rules, it’s the just the way it’s been for the past 20 years (all the teams that followed the original Dream Team can thank their elders for that bit of circumstance).
That’s why we have to watch this afternoon’s U.S.-Argentina exhibition (3:30 p.m. ET on NBA TV) with a discerning eye. Unlike their previous three exhibition games, this is a contest between gold medal candidates (someone else besides the U.S., Russia and Spain is capable of gold) and fierce international rivals. The U.S. went through Argentina in the semifinals on their way to gold in Beijing in 2008 after Argentina did the same four years earlier in Athens on their way to gold.
This is one of the few teams that can counter the U.S. with NBA stars of its own, a fact not lost on Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and the leaders of the U.S. team. Led by Manu Ginobili and Luis Scola, Argentina also has the added bonus of having a national team core group that has been together for years, a group that has thrived in competitions everywhere.
Both teams will be trying to send a message this afternoon, even though they will do their very best to act like that’s not the case …
(Make sure you tune in at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBA TV and chat with us live here during the action!)
— FOURTH QUARTER —
— 5:34 p.m. U.S. wins 86-80 in a much closer game than it had to be. They fell in love with those uncontested 3-pointers and rolled when they were going in and struggled when they weren’t. Durant led the way with 27, Kobe had 18 and yet CP3’s late 3 was probably the biggest shot of the game for the U.S. They made the game tougher than it needed to be with the 13-for-34 shooting from deep. Curious side note, James Harden didn’t scratch in this game. Gamesmanship or what?
— 5:30 p.m. Spain’s big men (Gasols and Ibaka) have to know that they’re going to have a huge advantage in Tuesday’s game. Should be even more interesting for the U.S., as they try and figure out how to use their speed and athleticism to combat all of that size inside.
— 5:27 p.m. Scola with two huge misses at the free throw line in the final 50 seconds. LeBron draws a foul at the rim. Manu fouls out and gets a nice ovation from the crowd.
— 5:23 p.m. CP3 with a big 3-pointer for the 84-73 lead. The U.S. has closers all over the floor. But Argentina still coming, 84-78 with 1:48 to play.
— 5:22 p.m. Way too much standing around right now by the U.S. on offense. Ginobili drops one in off the pick and roll and gets the foul. We’ve got a 78-74 game with 2:50 left. Crowd is cranking up in Barcelona. And Durant with the dagger! Wow! 81-74 U.S.
— 5:18 p.m. Prigioni with a big 3 cuts the lead to seven, and we’ve got a nice sticky game down the stretch. This is like regular season NBA basketball right now. Argentina’s patience on the offensive end is in stark contrast to the rushed play of the U.S. on that end of the floor. It’s the difference between a team that understands each other’s every move and a team filled with guys learning those things on the fly.
— 5:15 p.m. Chandler can’t make free throws and he can’t stay out of foul trouble … the blueprint for opposing teams that are good enough to draw the U.S. into this trap. Argentina is one of the few capable of doing so.
— 5:13 p.m. Manu is so far and away the best player on his team that it’s remarkable. He knocks down a couple of quick shots and we’ve got a 10-point game here with five minutes to play in the fourth.
–5:06 p.m. Two quick dunks from LeBron pushes the lead back to 15. He hasn’t really imposed his will in this one at all. But he could get cooking here late and give the U.S. the edge they’re looking for. Coach K will have to rotate his point guard relentlessly to keep up the pace that suits his team best.
— THIRD QUARTER —
— 5:01 p.m. The U.S. goes to sleep again with that 20-point lead and Argentina knocks down 3s and takes advantage of careless play by the U.S. to squeeze it back to a close game, down 11 heading into the fourth quarter (72-61). The U.S. can’t catch a breath against a team of this caliber. Simply can’t do it and win big like they are used to.
— 4:57 p.m. Iguodala could be one of the true unsung heroes on this team. He’s such a good defender, and can guard four positions in international ball, and is a much better offensive player right now than he’s been at any time during his NBA career. BTW, the U.S. lead is back to 20 (69-49).
— 4:54 p.m. For every run Argentina or any team will make, the U.S. has a counter. They’re always going to be able to get a defensive stop or turnover and beat you in transition to regain momentum. That said, I’d be interested to see how this team functioned if they had to play from behind in a game … just asking!
— 4:47 p.m. Ginobili needs a SAG card. Seriously, he’s better than Pacino. He fouls LeBron and you see his face and it looks like he got fouled.
— 4:42 p.m. Third quarter kicking off like the first with Durant and Kobe striking early. U.S. with a 52-40 lead just like that. Durant with the pull up jumper and Kobe with the transition 3 … they make it look so easy sometimes.
— HALFTIME —
— 4:28 p.m. That 7-for-13 start from beyond the 3-point line was fool’s gold for the U.S. They fell in love with the deep ball and went 0-for-7 in the second quarter as they were outscored 24-16 and lost that 20-point lead.
— SECOND QUARTER —
— 4:24 p.m. Love seeing the U.S. in this sort of situation. Up 20 to leading by just five in the final seconds of the first half. Defense, transition and a fast break layup from Westbrook results in a 47-40 halftime lead. But make no mistake, Argentina will push them with their ball movement, patience and grit. Should be an interesting second half.
— 4:21 p.m. Delfino always looks better to me during international play than he does during the NBA season. It doesn’t make sense either, because he’s got more of an “NBA” game than any international player I can think of … slick off the dribble, athletic and a streaky shooter. Funky step-back 3 over Westbrook is vintage Delfino. Makes it an eight-point game.
— 4:18 p.m. LeBron hasn’t even started cooking yet. I’d start posting him, Melo too, and see what my offense looked like with Argentina having to focus on those two in the paint. Well, four quickies for LeBron. But Argentina is attacking the rim the way the U.S. should be attacking.
— 4:12 p.m. Lots of tough guy antics from guys who know each other well. Not buying any of this nonsense. Nothing like a little healthy trash talk between acquaintances. For the record, the shoulder to the gut on Paul is what kicked off the foolishness. But this is all just playground-style posturing from both sides. Oh, and I told you Nocioni would get his in. Lead is down to 10, by the way. Excellent work by Argentina.
— 4:07 p.m. Kobe gets swatted on one end and Durant gets it back on the other. Durant’s wingspan is preposterous. No way he should have blocked that. Loving Kobe going after Argentina like this (he’s got 14 points already). Message being sent!
— 4:03 p.m. The U.S. is so fast in transition and they’re ridiculously unselfish. I’m not sure you can appreciate just how good these guys are through a flat screen. On average, they’re two steps faster than Argentina on the run. That’s an advantage no team in the competition (or in the world) can counter.
— FIRST QUARTER —
— 3:58 p.m. The 3-pointers from Durant and D. Will to end the quarter give the U.S. a 31-16 lead and highlights the fact that when they’re making their shots from distance, the opposition has basically no chance. Solid first quarter from the U.S.
— 3:55 p.m. Argentina is going right to Scola in the post every chance they get with Melo on him. Smart basketball. Attacking the U.S. in the one place they are most vulnerable is the only strategy that works. Argentina right back in the thick of this game down 25-14.
— 3:51 p.m. No need to swing for the home run shot every time. The U.S. is trying to knock Argentina out from deep in the first quarter here and it’s really not necessary. They need to attack the rim. They have the advantage inside and out, might as well use it in both places. All of this dramatic gesturing to draw fouls is a clear indicator that Manu is on the floor. You gotta love him …
— 3:45 p.m. Seriously, the Kobe and Durant show is ridiculous. They’re both draining 3s from deep and playing like this is a real game. I knew they would try and send a message in this game. And Argentina is playing with an undersized big man themselves in Scola. Guarantee you Nocioni gets tangled up with someone in the next minute or two. Always love watching him in these international games.
— 3:40 p.m. Zone early from Argentina and Kobe makes them pay with the third straight 3 from the U.S. They haven’t missed a shot yet. Ideal start for the home team. And another 3 from Durant pushes the lead to 14-1 just like that. This is the start you want every game from the U.S. Maybe it’s the throwback unis?
— 3:37 p.m. Durant from deep for the start. And another one. That international 3 is just not fair for a shooter with his size and length. Not fair.
–3:34 p.m. Another tweak today with the lineup with CP3 replacing Deron Williams from the Great Britain game. Loving the Dream Team throwbacks. Wish they would wear them throughout the competition in London.