LONDON — We’ve seen its flashes, those breathtaking bursts of fury the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team can unleash on the opposition.
Sometimes it comes in the form of the 3-point storm Carmelo Anthony helped unleash on Nigeria in pool play. Or sometimes, it is the one Kobe Bryant put on Australia in the quarterfinals or a LeBron James/Kevin Durant-induced knockout blow on either end of the floor, an occurrence in more than a couple of games here so far.
Yet, as good as they have been on their grind towards the medal round of this Olympic tournament, the scary part for Argentina, Spain and Russia is that the U.S. team hasn’t played their best. To a man, the U.S. Team is convinced that they haven’t come close to playing up to their immense potential.
“That’s the crazy part, man,” Durant said. “We have another level we can go to on both ends of the floor. We’ve shown it here and there. For us to sustain it throughout a whole game, though, we still haven’t seen that. The challenge is us trying to do it. We’ll get another crack at it against Argentina and we’ll see if we can do it.”
Doing it against their biggest rival of the past decade on the world’s biggest stage with a gold-medal game berth going to the winner makes chasing the “perfect” game even more intriguing for a U.S. Team that never needs extra motivation, especially with so many watching just to see if someone will upset them.
And make no mistake, for all the fans who love to watch the U.S. Team work, there are plenty of folks in London and beyond who want to see this team pushed to its limits. (As you might suspect, beating teams by an average of 38.7 points is not in the recipe for intrigue.)
That’s exactly what the U.S. players want to see as well.
“Definitely, definitely,” Deron Williams said. “We haven’t played well in the first halves of late. And then we’ve always given up a run of some sort, things that we need to stop and can stop from happening. So there is definitely another gear we can get up to, especially defensively.”
Whether they admit it or not, it has to be hard to push against the likes of Tunisia and Nigeria — teams incapable of mounting a significant challenge to a team filled with elite NBA talent. But for any of the three other remaining teams in the competition, they pose a legitimate threat to the U.S. Team’s gold medal plans.
“Everybody is focused, that’s not really a problem with us.” Williams said. “We just need to put a full 40 minutes of basketball together. We’ve got to put 40 minutes of pressure, focus and intensity. We’ve done it against some teams. But we need to do it against these better teams.”
Argentina would certainly qualify. But they’ve also experienced first hand the U.S. on a tear. They were within a point at halftime Monday night, only to have James and Durant combine to obliterate them in the third quarter.
“Sometimes it’s about us pushing ourselves and sometimes it’s about other teams waking us up,” Durant said. “We find ourselves down two or three points in the third or tied at the half or something and we have to tell ourselves that it’s time to turn it up. But if we start games off that way … we’re a problem.”
Those are the sort of problems Williams was talking about, the sort the U.S. needs to fuel their fire and the kind that will be needed this weekend to finish this job.
“We have to play just 40 minutes of the defense we know we;re capable of playing,” Kevin Love said. “And when that happens, that creates transition dunks, transition threes, layups, and all of the above. I think if that’s the case, and we’re all willing to do the dirty work on the defensive end, we’re only going to get better in these next two games.”