LONDON — It spread like a Kardashian rumor on Twitter Thursday night, the U.S. Senior Men’s National Team’s fancy for the 3-point shot. One Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant got it started against Nigeria, Carmelo Anthony took it to the next level and everyone else followed.
By the time they were finished, they’d taken 46 of them, made 29 and set a few records on their way to a mind-boggling 83-point blowout of Nigeria.
U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said afterwards that he hoped his team saved a few more for the rest of the Olympic competition. His words proved prophetic here earlier today, when the U.S. almost shot their way into a stunning upset to Lithuania, a team that dared the U.S. to shoot their way to another big win relying on outside shots for the bulk of their points.
They survived on a diet plate this time, making just 10 of the 33 they hoisted, two of the makes being clutch shots from both LeBron James and Deron Williams, when Chris Paul found him wide open with a mid-air touch pass, in the final four minutes of their 99-94 win.
“We had a lot of good looks,” Paul said. “A lot of those shots went in and out. One thing Coach [Krzyzewski] told us is to keep shooting your shots. And that’s what we have to do. And when I did get that offensive rebounds, D. Will knocked down a big one. With the amount of talent we have on our team we pass up a ton of good shots. So are some times when you just have to shoot the ball.”
They played a dangerous game, though, one that only a group of the very best players could and get away with on a night when their free throw shooting (19-for-31) is as deplorable, relatively speaking.
But when you have every reason to believe that the next one you take is the one that will break a game open, it’s hard to resist that urge. When your Hall of Fame coach is demanding that you keep shooting “your shots,” it’s your professional obligation to keep shooting them.
“When you miss a couple of them, you start thinking, “I’m just gonna pass it,'”Williams said. “But coach stayed on us. He got a little pissed off that we were passing up shots. So you just have to be ready to shoot them.”
But not at the expense of higher percentage shots closer to the basket. They pulled away late with James driving to the basket and forcing the action, by going inside to at least initiate whatever it was they wanted to do. But far too often they settled for what least appeared to be open shots.
“We want to get it inside, too,” Williams said. “But we had wide open shots on the perimeter. You’ve got to take them. Three feet closer than the NBA 3 [point line]. They looked good, they felt good. They just weren’t going in.”
James said he has no problem with his teammates taking those shots, even if it did appear to be detrimental to the U.S Team’s cause in this particular instance.
“A lot of teams pack the paint,” he said. “We have a lot of dribble penetration guys that get into the paint and we also have some great shooters as well. So when we get into the lane and kick out for shots, it’s a mid-range jumper for a lot of our guys. And we want them to step up and shoot them. No matter what’s going, we want them to step up and shoot them.”
Just not at the expense of getting the win.
“We want to have a little bit of balance, too,” he said. “That’s where me and [Russell] Westbrook come into play. We’re kind of the penetrating guys on this team who want to get into the lane. But we have great shooters, and we can’t tell them don’t take shots when they are open.”