LONDON – After this game between the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team and Argentina, the final game of pool play for everyone in this Olympic competition, we are saying goodbye to the venue so many of us have called home since the Games began.
As much fun as we’ve had in and around the Olympic Basketball Arena, the building dubbed the “Big White Marshmallow” by some locals, the grown man stage of this tournament will take place at North Greenwich Arena. U.S. point guard Deron Williams knows the place well, having played two games there with the Nets in March 2011 when he first joined the New Jersey (and now Brooklyn) Nets.
But before we go, we’re going to find out if U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski knows his team as well as he does. He insists that their somewhat uncharacteristic performance against Lithuania Saturday night was an aberration, a temporary departure from the Olympic script for his team.
They can play better, they can play harder and they can defend the pick and roll. He says they can certainly much better than they did Saturday night. We’re assuming he meant they could do all of those things by tonight, because the world is watching now to see if the U.S. really is vulnerable as they seemed, at times, during that 99-94 win over Lithuania.
You better believe Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola and the rest of this confident Argentina team are going to test the U.S. and see if they have indeed learned their lessons.
We’re going play-by-play (as best these typing fingers will allow) from right here at the BWM throughout, knowing full well that the quarterfinal matchups are all but set and that the U.S. will see Australia next (Patty Mills made the Horry Scale, in case you missed it), and a potential semifinal date against either Spain or Brazil (they are in the final two minutes … UPDATE, Brazil wins 88-82 to finish second in the group while Spain finishes third).
But we’ll get to the future in due time. The U.S. and Argentina have business to tend to first …
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS (NEW JERSEY BUREAU) – The FIBA Americas Championship 2011 will be decided on Sunday in Mar del Plata, Argentina, but to most people involved, the most important games of the tournament take place 24 hours earlier. Saturday evening’s semifinals will determine the Americas’ two representatives at next year’s Olympics in London.
But the losers of Saturday’s games can still dream about walking with their nation at the Olympic Stadium next July, because they will be placed in a 12-team, last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament earlier in the month. The top three finishers in that tournament will earn the last three spots in the Olympic field, but Saturday’s losers will have to compete for those spots with four teams from the very competitive EuroBasket tournament that wraps up next weekend, as well as Venezuela, who qualified by finishing fifth in this one.
The four teams still alive separated themselves from the pack early. They finished with a cumulative record of 19-1 against the other six teams in the tournament, with the Dominican Republic’s one-point loss to Canada the only blemish.
Both of Saturday’s games, as well as Sunday’s action (a third-place game and the final), can be seen on ESPN3 in the U.S. and on FIBATV.com elsewhere. Here’s a look at the matchups…
Brazil (7-1) vs. Dominican Republic (5-3) – 6 p.m ET
Brazil took the top seed away from Argentina with an impressive victory over the hosts on Wednesday. That, along with a blowout of Puerto Rico the following night, earned them the right to play the Dominican Republic, which has looked all along to be the weakest of the four semifinalists. But Brazil’s only loss came at the hands of the Dominican last Friday when Brazilian point guard Marcelo Huertas committed 10 turnovers.
Huertas isn’t well known among NBA fans, but he’s the key to Brazil’s offensive attack. He and Tiago Splitter are a dangerous pick-and-roll tandem, because you can’t leave either alone and Brazil has plenty of shooters to spread the floor and complement them.
The Dominican Republic will lean heavily on Al Horford, who is averaging 18.6 points and 9.1 rebounds in the tournament. Horford is complemented on the inside by “El Limpiacristales” Jack Michael Martinez, who has five double-doubles in eight games.
But if Brazil packs the paint and keeps Horford out of the post, he’ll need help from the perimeter. The Dominican Republic is shooting just 32.7 percent from 3-point range for the tournament, but they were 8-for-13 from downtown (Francisco Garcia was 4-for-5) in their win over Brazil.
Argentina (7-1) vs. Puerto Rico (6-2) – 8:15 p.m ET
A few days ago, Argentina looked unbeatable in this tournament. Their veteran core was back together and playing dominantly on both ends. But then Andres Nocioni sprained his right ankle on the opening tip against Brazil on Wednesday and the Argentina offense, which torched Venezuela a night earlier, seemed to follow him back to the locker room.
The hosts recovered to win easily over the Dominican Republic the next night, and they’re still the favorite to win the tournament, but Nocioni’s status for Saturday’s semifinal is questionable. And they’re certainly not as unbeatable as they looked before Wednesday.
Luis Scola is the tournament’s leading scorer at 19.4 points per game, but Argentina’s offense is about finding the open man, no matter who he is. They’ve assisted on 57 percent of their field goals, the highest rate in the tournament, and all four NBA players on the roster are averaging in double figures.
Puerto Rico has three NBA players on their roster, but one has played significantly better than the other two. In the league, Carlos Arroyo is a conservative, pass-first point guard. But on the FIBA stage, he’s dynamic and aggressive, averaging 13.9 points and 3.6 assists in the tournament.
J.J. Barea, on the other hand, has yet to get comfortable in the Puerto Rico offense. He has shot just 34 percent from the field in the tournament, including an atrocious 2-for-21 from 3-point range.
Puerto Rico lost their inside presence, Daniel Santiago, to a foot injury on Tuesday. So for them to have any hope against Argentina, they will need a big game inside from Manuel Narvaez, as well as the outside shooting of Alex Galindo.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS (NEW JERSEY BUREAU) – Wednesday’s action at the FIBA Americas Championship 2011 in Mar del Plata saw host Argentina get upset and Venezuela get one step closer to play for an Olympic berth next summer. But there’s still plenty on the line on Thursday, when pool play concludes with four more games.
Trending up: Brazil (6-1) Trending down: Argentina (6-1)
Canada kept itself alive for fifth place with a 7-0 run to end the game, capped by Andy Rautins‘ game-winning 3-pointer with 58 seconds left. Uruguay had plenty of chances to tie or take the lead after that, but they missed their final eight shots.
Rautins hit four of his six treys overall, but the star of the game for Canada was Levon Kendall, who scored 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. That helped make up for the absences of Joel Anthony (ankle) and Aaron Doornekamp (concussion).
Despite the absence of Anthony, the Canadian defense was still strong … or maybe the Uruguayan offense was just awful. Either way, Uruguay shot just 32 percent from the field, with Esteban Batista connecting on just one of his seven shots.
To finish fifth, Canada needs to beat Panama on Thursday (which shouldn’t be a problem) and have Uruguay beat Venezuela.
Venezuela remains in position to finish fifth and grab a spot in the Olympic qualifying tournament thanks to an easy victory over Panama, who clinched eighth place with the loss.
The Venezuelan offense has been ridiculously good from the start. They lead the FIBA Americas tournament in offensive efficiency, scoring 119 points per 100 possessions. But their defense has allowed nearly as many. On Thursday though, they face the Uruguayan offense, which has been worse than Panama’s.
The fifth-place scenarios for the final day of pool play are simple, assuming that Canada beats Panama (a pretty safe assumption) in the 10:30 a.m. ET game. If Venezuela beats Uruguay (at 1 p.m. ET), they finish fifth (holding the head-to-head tie-breaker over Canada) and play in the Olympic qualifying tournament next July. If Uruguay beats Venezuela, then Canada finishes fifth.
Exactly one year after they gave us a thriller at the World Championship, these teams gave us more quality basketball, just with smaller stakes and a little less offense. That elimination game was won by Argentina, sending Brazil home from Istanbul. This game of little consequence was won by Brazil, despite an 0-for-7 performance from Tiago Splitter.
With Splitter in foul trouble, Rafael Hettsheimer came to the rescue, scoring 19 points on 9-of-11 shooting and grabbing eight rebounds in 22 minutes. Marcelo Huertas played all but one minute of the game and added 17 points.
Argentina cooled off considerably after shooting 18-for-28 from 3-point range against Venezuela. After combining to shoot 12-for-15 from downtown on Wednesday, Manu Ginobili and Pablo Prigioni shot 3-for-11 from beyond the arc on Thursday. Luis Scola led the hosts with 24 points and 11 rebounds, but he turned the ball over six times.
The bad news for Argentina came before either team scored a basket. For some reason, Andres Nocioni jumped center for the hosts, and when he came down from the jump, he landed on Splitter’s foot, turning his right ankle. Nocioni left the game and probably won’t play Thursday against the Dominican Republic. His status for Saturday’s semifinal is unknown.
Despite a quiet game from Carlos Arroyo, Puerto Rico kept pace with Argentina and Brazil. It was a five-point game late in the third quarter when Puerto Rico put it away with a 14-0 run spanning the third and fourth.
J.J. Barea picked up some of Arroyo’s slack with his best game of the tournament, scoring 14 points and dishing out seven assists. Alex Galindo continued to shoot well, hitting five of his 11 threes and leading Puerto Rico with 16 points.
Francisco Garcia was pretty awful for the Dominican Republic, shooting 1-for-10 from the field and 0-for-7 from 3-point range.
So here are your scenarios for Thursday, when Argentina will face the Dominican Republic and Brazil will face Puerto Rico…
If Argentina and Brazil win, then Brazil (1st) will face the Dominican Republic (4th) and Argentina (2nd) will face Puerto Rico (3rd) in Saturday’s semifinals.
If Argentina and Puerto Rico win, then Argentina (1st) will face the Dominican Republic (4th) and Puerto Rico (2nd) will face Brazil (3rd).
If the Dominican Republic and Brazil win, then Brazil finishes first and second, third and fourth place will come down to point differential in games played between Argentina, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
If the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico win, then Puerto Rico (1st) will face Argentina (4th) and the Dominican Republic (2nd) will face Brazil (3rd).
Reminder: The two winners of the two semifinals qualify for the Olympics. The two losers will join the fifth-place team (Venezuela or Canada) at the 12-team Olympic qualifying tournament in early July. The top three finishers in that tournament will qualify for the Olympics.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS (NEW JERSEY BUREAU) – With two more days of pool play left, we already know the four teams that will be playing for two berths in next year’s Olympics. Thanks to wins on Tuesday, Argentina, Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico have all clinched spots in the semifinals of the FIBA Americas Championship 2011 in Mar del Plata, Argentina.
Those two games will take place on Saturday, with the two winners earning trips to the Olympics and the two losers being relegated to the Olympic qualifying tournament in early July. But we still don’t know who will be playing whom (the other three teams would surely like to avoid Argentina), and we still don’t know who will finish fifth and earn the final spot in that Olympic qualifying tournament.
Canada came oh so close to putting themselves in position to finish fifth, coming back from a 17-point deficit to tie the game with two minutes left. But they couldn’t get over the hump and now will surely need some help to qualify for meaningful basketball next summer. Canada needs to beat both Uruguay (Wednesday) and Panama (Thursday) and hope that Uruguay can beat Venezuela (Thursday).
Puerto Rico lost control of this game with both Carlos Arroyo and J.J. Barea on the bench early in the fourth quarter. But Arroyo saved them with two huge pull-up jumpers in the final two minutes.
Arroyo is clearly the better FIBA player of Puerto Rico’s two NBA guards. He finished with 26 points on 9-for-15 shooting on Tuesday. Barea did add five rebounds, six assists and four steals to his 11 points, but he simply hasn’t found a groove offensively.
Joel Anthony, nursing a bad ankle, did not start for Canada. So for the second straight game, Daniel Santiago provided a size advantage for Puerto Rico. But Santiago was lost late in the first quarter with his own injury. Santiago is out for the rest of the tournament with a plantar fasciitis tear in his right foot.
Anthony did play six minutes in the second quarter, but was not moving well and didn’t play at all in the second half.
Andy Rautins had his best game of the tournament, leading Canada with 18 points, nine of which came in the fourth quarter.
Puerto Rico is missing wings Larry Ayuso and A.D. Vassallo, but they may have found a suitable replacement in Alex Galindo, who has been their secondary scorer in each of the last two games. Against Venezuela and Canada, Galindo has totaled 31 points and hit six of his 10 attempts from 3-point range.
The Dominican Republic had an up-and-down first round, but opened the second round with a strong win over Panama on Monday. A day later, they looked to be down again, or at least slow to recover from the gruesome injury Edgar Sosa suffered at the end of the Panama game.
Uruguay led this one by 11 midway through the second quarter, but the Dominican took a two-point lead into halftime thanks to Elpidio Fortuna‘s buzzer-beating three off a full-court baseball pass from Al Horford. The teams traded runs and it was still a one-possession game early in the fourth. But the Dominican got big shots from Luis Flores and Sosa’s replacement Ronald Ramon down the stretch to hold on for the victory.
Horford filled the box score with 23 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block.
Charlie Villanueva had his second straight solid game, scoring 11 points on 4-for-8 from the field.
Martin Osimani was the star for Uruguay, scoring 22 points on 9-for-19 shooting.
Uruguay is still alive for a chance to qualify for the Olympics. If they win their last two games against Canada and Venezuela, they’ll finish fifth and play in next summer’s 12-team Olympic qualifying tournament.
This was a matchup of the best offensive team in the tournament thus far (Venezuela) vs. the best defensive team (Argentina). The defensive team won, but as you can see from the score, it was very much an offensive game.
Venezuela hung tight and was down just five early in the fourth quarter, but Argentina relentlessly picked apart their zone and pulled away with their long-range shooting. The hosts were a ridiculous 18-for-28 from 3-point range for the game, and that included an 0-for-4 performance from Carlos Delfino.
Check out these numbers… Manu Ginobili: 6-for-8 from downtown. Pablo Prigioni: 6-for-7. Andres Nocioni: 4-for-5. And with Luis Scola doing his typical work (17 points on 7-for-11 from the field) inside, it didn’t matter how good the Venezuelan offense was.
Venezuela needs to take care of business against Panama on Wednesday and then they should be playing for fifth place against Uruguay on Thursday.
Brazil picked up its third straight easy victory, again allowing its stars to stay fresh. It gets tough from here on out though, as they’ll face Argentina on Wednesday, Puerto Rico on Thursday, and then play the semifinals on Saturday.
The Argentina game (5 p.m. ET) is a rematch of a terrific round-of-16 matchup at last year’s World Championship (arguably the best game of the tournament) and should certainly be entertaining. Of course, Brazil has fewer NBA players on their squad this year (no Leandro Barbosa or Anderson Varejao) and Argentina has more (Ginobili and Nocioni were not in Turkey last year).
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS (NEW JERSEY BUREAU) – Day 2 of action at the FIBA Americas Championship 2011 in Mar del Plata, Argentina, featured a near-upset, a couple of blowouts, and a critical game between two teams who have a shot at the top five (and a spot in the Olympics or the Olympic qualifying tournament next summer).
For the second straight day, Venezuela looked poised to pull off an upset. This time, they were up by as many as 17 points early in the third quarter and by 11 heading into the fourth. But the Dominican Republic turned up the defensive intensity in the final 10 minutes, swarmed Greivis Vasquez whenever he came off a pick, and pulled out a three-point victory.
More notes from Dominican Republic vs. Venezuela:
For most of the game, the Venezuela zone kept Edgar Sosa out of the paint and Al Horford out of the post. But Horford was able to find opportunities near the rim by moving without the ball. He finished with 19 points on 6-for-7 shooting, adding 10 rebounds.
Jack Michael Martinez, the Dominican’s starting center and their version of Ben Wallace, added 18 points and 14 rebounds. A lot of those points followed his seven offensive boards.
The Venezuela offense was a little more balanced than it was on Tuesday, but Vasquez still filled the box score. He came one assist short of a triple-double, finishing with 16 points, 10 rebounds and nine dimes.
Once again, both Francisco Garcia and Charlie Villanueva were largely disappointing. Garcia was mostly invisible and Villanueva looked sluggish. There’s talk of Villanueva being under the weather, but the only good thing about him through these first two games has been the way the FIBA announcer pronounces his name.
With the game going down to the wire, neither Garcia nor Villanueva were on the floor for the Dominican Republic.
Luis Floreswas on the floor, and he hit two big jumpers in the closing minutes.
After trailing by six with 45 seconds left, Venezuela had a chance to tie with a three on their final possession. But the play that ex-Warriors and Kings coach Eric Musselman drew up in the timeout was not executed on the floor and Vasquez drove baseline and had no one to pass it to.
By playing well against both Brazil and the Dominican Republic, Venezuela has been a pleasant surprise in this tournament. They might have a shot at finishing fifth, but they need to start turning those fourth-quarter leads into Ws. They’ve got Cuba on Thursday and then a huge game against Canada on Saturday.
The Dominicans looked strong against Cuba on Tuesday, but took a step backward on Day 2.
Not much to see here. Neither Carlos Arroyo nor J.J. Barea needed to play more than 20 minutes in this blowout. Through two games, Puerto Rico has an effective field goal percentage of 0.582. They’ve got another mismatch (Uruguay) on Thursday before facing Argentina on Friday night.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS (NEW JERSEY BUREAU) – With the United States already holding a ticket to London next year and happy to sit out the event for the second straight time, the FIBA Americas Championship 2011 got underway in Mar del Plata, Argentina on Tuesday.
The top two finishers in the tournament will qualify for next year’s Olympics in London. The third, fourth and fifth-place finishers will qualify for the 12-team qualifying tournament next July. The top three finishers in that tournament will qualify for the Olympics.
Eight of the FIBA Americas’ 10 teams were in action on the first of five days of preliminary-round action. Here’s a rundown…
Of the three NBA players on the D.R. roster, Al Horford clearly stood out. After a slow start (two points on 1-for-5 shooting in the first 8:58), he dominated the action in the Dominican’s easy win.
Horford’s 24 points came mostly in the post, where the Cuban big men were completely overmatched. But he did have a handful of buckets on the move and on the break. The highlight was a fast-break alley-oop throw down off a toss from Edgar Sosa midway through the second quarter.
After that 1-for-5 start, Horford connected on 11 of his final 13 shots. He added nine boards to his 24 points.
ISTANBUL – The U.S. National Team has arrived in Istanbul for the 2010 FIBA World Championship. While most of the other medal contenders will play their preliminary games in other locations around Turkey, the U.S. will make Istanbul their home until the close of the World Championship. So after seven days in New York, six days in Madrid, and three in Athens, they can finally settle in.
After Wednesday’s big win over Greece, the team is going through a light workout Thursday night. On Friday afternoon, they will practice at the Abdi Ipekci Arena, where their preliminary games will be played. Then they’ll play their first real game on Saturday (12 p.m. ET, ESPN Classic) against Croatia.
Istanbul is seven hours ahead of Eastern time, so that’s a 7 p.m. start locally. It’s the middle game of the three-game slate in Istanbul.
I sat down for a few minutes with USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo on Thursday afternoon to get his assessment of how things went on the tour of Madrid and Athens.
“We’ve made a lot of progress,” Colangelo said. “First of all, now that the roster is set, that’s one major thing out of the way, more so for the players who were wondering what their status was. It’s just important to get to that final roster cut, and we did. And it worked out in a very positive way in every respect.
“No. 2, we’re creating the identity that we were seeking.”
You know the identity by now. Great defense that leads to transition and great guard play.
In their five exhibition games (including the closed scrimmage vs. China), the U.S. has allowed their opponents to shoot just 37.6 percent from the field, and to score just 77.6 points per 100 possessions. That’s real good.
Of course, Colangelo knows that these guys ain’t seen nothing yet. And it has definitely been communicated to the players that elimination games against Spain or Greece would probably be nothing like the games they played this past week.
“We’re pleased with where we are,” he said, “but as far as we’re concerned, we’re 0-0.”
But Colangelo is glad that he put together a tougher exhibition schedule than this team had in 2006.
“It couldn’t have been any better,” he said. “Quite honestly, we wish everyone [for the opponents] would have been healthy.”
Trivia: Just two U.S. players averaged double-figures in scoring in their five exhibition games (including the closed scrimmage vs. China). They were Kevin Durant (16.6 points per game) and …
Gordon averaged 10.0 points in the five exhibition games. He didn’t score against Spain, but had 15 points against China, eight against France, nine against Lithuania and 18 against Greece.
Colangelo was effusive with his praise for the Clippers’ guard, but won’t call Gordon’s play a surprise.
“I’m not going to say he’s a surprise,” Colangelo said. “What I’m going to say is we’re really pleased with the way he’s playing. And he’s to a point now where he takes a shot, we expect it to go down. It’s not a question in our minds. There are very few players playing on any level where you feel if they’ve got the ball, they’re going to score. He’s one of them.
“He’s a pure shooter, just needs a little bit of room. He’s quick. The other thing is his body type is perfect for international play. Big and strong.”
We thought going in that rebounding would be the No. 1 concern for the U.S. But they rebounded 81.4 percent of their opponents’ misses in the five exhibition games, pretty much putting that concern to rest.
Instead, I think three other concerns have emerged…
1. Interior defense, particularly against the pick-and-roll. Kostas Tsartsaris was able to score pretty easily (he had 24 points on 9-for-12 shooting) against Lamar Odom on Wednesday. And by picking up four fouls in less than 11 minutes of action, Tyson Chandler wasn’t much help.
2. 3-point shooting. They connected on just 37 of their 113 threes (32.7 percent) in the five games. Almost half of the threes were made by Eric Gordon (10-for-23) and Chauncey Billups (8-for-18). The rest of the team shot 19-for-72 (26.4 percent).
3. Turnovers. They had 17 of them against Greece and averaged 15.8 in their five exhibition games. But by my count, seven of the 17 came in the fourth quarter on Wednesday, when Stephen Curry spent most of the period at the point. And it’s doubtful that Curry will play any meaningful minutes at the point going forward.
Tough news for Argentina: After doctors examined his injured left ankle, the Sixers advised Andres Nocioni that he should withdraw from the World Championship. With Nocioni healthy, Argentina would have had one of the two or three best lineups in the tournament. Now, they’re depth is even worse than it was.
Random note: Rajon Rondo averaged more than twice as many assists per 40 minutes (12.6) as anyone else on the roster. Derrick Rose was next with 4.9 assists per 40.