Posts Tagged ‘Pau Gasol’

Morning shootaround — Aug. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

USA’s Rio Gold Rush | Popovich takes over Team USA | Gasol not ready to end international career | Wall continues making an impact off the court

No. 1: USA’s Rio gold rush With an experienced coaching staff and roster stuffed with NBA All-Stars, the United States Men’s Basketball Team entered the 2016 Rio Olympics as heavy favorites to win the gold medal. And with yesterday’s 96-66 blowout win over Serbia, Team USA did in fact win gold, although the journey may have been bumpier than many expected. As our own John Schuhmann writes from Rio, several lessons were apparent along the way:

This team had some bad defenders, and too many of them were in the starting lineup together until head coach Mike Krzyzewski changed things up before the quarterfinals. On this team and in years past, we’ve learned how important it is to have an Andre Iguodala or a Paul George to complement the guys who can put the ball in the bucket. Kawhi Leonard, you have a 2020 roster spot if you want it.

This team also fell victim to an exhibition schedule that was too easy. That wasn’t necessarily a mistake, because they were only able to play teams that traveled through the U.S. on their way to Rio. But it was clear that the Americans weren’t prepared for a step-up in competition after cruising through the exhibitions and their first two pool play games.

And as much talent as the U.S. has, it’s impossible to make the most of it over the course of five weeks. The national team is made up of stars who aren’t used to playing with one another, and they were playing their first elimination game less than a month after they began training camp.

Other teams don’t train for much longer than that, but almost all of them have more roster continuity than the U.S. does. The U.S. had just two players back from its last Olympic Team, as well as four from the team that won the World Cup of Basketball in 2014. Serbia, meanwhile, returned nine players from the team that lost to the U.S. in ’14.

And that’s concern No. 1 for USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo. He knows that it’s always going to be difficult for the U.S. to flow freely offensively and play on a string defensively when they only have three weeks to prepare a brand new roster.

“Basketball is the ultimate team game,” Colangelo said. “And when you have 10 new people and you only have them for a few weeks, it’s not enough time. For me, I’m glad we’re past this. It’s justification for all that we’ve done. But it also says to me we need to continue with the continuity. We can’t go back again with 10 new players. It’s not going to happen.”

This year, the Americans were fortunate to have the two Olympic vets that they did. Durant put the team on his back in the gold medal game. Carmelo Anthony, who retired from the national team after Sunday’s game as the only player with three Olympic gold medals in Men’s Basketball, turned into a leader for the younger players to rally around.

Those younger guys will be asked to keep coming back. And continuity will become even more important down the line, because the rest of the world is continually getting better. While this tournament saw the final games of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker in their national-team uniforms, there is more talent coming up behind them.

The 46 NBA players in these Olympics was an all-time high. Australia took a big step forward, put itself on the second tier of national teams, and has the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft in its pipeline. Serbia isn’t going anywhere, France has good, under-30 players in the backcourt and on the frontline, Croatia and Lithuania have young NBA talent, and it’s just a matter of time (and participation) before Canada breaks though.

The United States’ winning streak in international tournaments, which now stands at 53 games, will come to an end at some point. But this group of 12 didn’t let it happen on its watch.

There were close calls, but they still went 8-0, played their best game with gold on the line, and stood on the top step of the podium on Sunday afternoon. Lessons were learned, but gold was earned.

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No. 2: Popovich takes over Team USA — After 11 years at the helm and a perfect record in the Olympics, Coach Mike Krzyzewski now hands over Team USA to San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, who will be Team USA’s new man on the sideline. As ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan writes, to truly understand Pop, you have to understand where he comes from and the disappointments that have helped shape him…

Gregg Popovich graduated with a degree in Soviet Studies in 1970 and joined the U.S. Armed Forces basketball team, touring Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, using his fluent Russian to brief his coach on helpful buzzwords.

His team won the AAU championship in 1972, and when he returned to the U.S., he learned the Olympic basketball trials would be held at the Academy. Jack Herron Jr., who was named to the 1972 U.S. Olympic selection committee, made it his charge to make certain Popovich received an invitation.

Herron, whose father Jack Sr. played for Olympic coach Hank Iba at Oklahoma A&M (later Oklahoma State), had just spent a year as an Air Force basketball assistant and recruiting coordinator. Popovich had earned rave reviews for his overseas performances, but they were neither televised nor publicized.

“It was a fight just to get him there,” says Herron. Back then the Olympic team was selected from a pool of players representing AAU, the NAIA, junior colleges, the Armed Forces, and both the university and college divisions of the NCAA. Players were split into groups of 10 to 12 and assigned a coach. Popovich played for Indiana coach Bobby Knight; one of his teammates was forward Bobby Jones.

Jones remembers that Popovich was in his group but could not recall particulars of his game, even though Popovich led all players with a .577 shooting percentage. What Jones recalls with clarity, though, was how, before the last scrimmage of the trials, Knight informed the group that only two of them had a shot at making the final Olympic squad and the rest should pass them the ball to enhance their chances.

“The two guys were Kevin Joyce and me,” says Jones. “I had never heard a coach be so honest. I don’t know how Gregg and the other players felt about it.”

Herron suspects the subtleties of Popovich’s game were lost among the other candidates who were jacking up shots and looking to put points on the board. “Gregg could have been more showy,” Herron says, “but he played the way Mr. Iba told him to play. It probably hurt him in the end.”

Herron says he attended every single Olympic selection committee meeting and that Popovich was among the top 14-16 players in each of those discussions. But as the committee began to vote on the final roster, members who hadn’t showed up at any of the previous meetings suddenly surfaced. When Herron asked why they were there, he says they told him, “We’re here to get our guys on the team.”

The process, Herron says, quickly dissolved into factions fighting for representation instead of choosing the top performers. When the final roster was announced, Popovich was left off.

“I’ve been aggravated about this for almost 50 years,” Herron says. “Gregg belonged on that team.”

Larry Brown was invited by Iba to attend the tryouts and was suitably impressed by Popovich’s moxie, so much so that he invited him to try out for his ABA team in Denver later that fall (Popovich was among the final cuts).

“Pop was real tough and tenacious, like [Cavs guard Matthew] Dellavedova, although a little more athletic,” Brown says. “But there were so many talented players there.”

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No. 3: Gasol not ready to end international career In other Olympic basketball action yesterday, Spain defeated Australia, 89-88, to win the bronze medal, behind 31 points from Pau Gasol. And while Gasol will be 40 years old by the time of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, he’s not ready to say he’ll be finished with his international career by then:

Gasol, who will spend this upcoming NBA season in San Antonio and hasn’t committed to playing at Tokyo in 2020, and his teammates celebrated by piling on top of each other near center court. This wasn’t the medal they wanted, but after losing their first two games in Brazil, it beats nothing.

“Unbelievable,” forward Rudy Fernandez said. “It’s an amazing feeling.”

It is a feeling Gasol wishes could last. He isn’t ready to shed his Espana jersey.

“I’m getting older and at some point I’m not going to be able to play,” said the 36-year-old. “So when that day comes, I’ll accept it. It’ll be hard, but I had an incredible run. I can’t ask for anything else. Everything I gave, everything I lived as a basketball player, it’s a plus. It’s a gift.

“I’m just enjoying the ride.”

***

No. 4: Wall continues making an impact off the court Washington’s John Wall wasn’t able to participate with USA Basketball this summer because of offseason knee surgery, but his rehab from the injury hasn’t kept him from being involved off the court in D.C. As the Washington Post‘s Candace Buckner writes, Wall recently gave out backpacks at a local elementary school, his latest attempt to make a difference in his community…

John Wall remembers how as a child he had to strap on the same backpack from elementary age until seventh grade. It’s one of the reasons why Wall showed up in Southeast Washington on a blazing hot afternoon to give away 250 backpacks.

On Saturday at Malcolm X Elementary School, the John Wall Family Foundation hosted its third annual Back to School Block Party. The event featured local organizations that donated back-to-school items, a DJ blasting up-tempo tunes, a bouncy house, face painting and free food. However, the main attraction was Wall, who personally placed backpacks on children and posed for photographs.

“I didn’t have an opportunity to meet my favorite player or an NBA player [when] I was growing up,” Wall said. “But [now] I can see the smiles that I put on these kids’ faces.”

Wall arrived at the event with little fanfare — though the DJ dropped the beat to welcome the guest of honor with “Teach Me How To Dougie.” Wall then walked the perimeter of the parking lot and basketball court to shake hands with every volunteer.

Following his gratitude lap, Wall took the microphone and addressed the crowd.

“I’m excited to be at Malcolm X Elementary school to give back to the community,” Wall said. “Like I told a lot of people before, we’re not forced to do this. I do it because I want to. I do it to be involved and be involved with the kids.”

School Principal Zara Berry-Young said Wall’s foundation reached out to her school because it specifically wanted to help in the Southeast Washington community. Wall echoed this sentiment, saying he picked an area “where people and the kids are going through tough times. . . . It’s kind of easy because it’s kind of over here by where our practice [facility] is going to be. I’m going to be over here a lot and seeing these people.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: In an emotional interview following the gold medal game, Carmelo Anthony announced his retirement from Team USACatching up with Brazilian hoops icon Oscar SchmidtYao Ming reflects on his Olympic experiencesAllen Iverson picks his top five players of all-time … The Heat and Chris Bosh are reportedly still discussing his returnKobe Bryant today will announce a venture capital fund for investing in technology, media and data companies …

Gasol leads Spain to bronze

Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic were too much for Australia on Sunday (Credit: RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports).

Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic combined for 45 points in the win. (Photo credit: RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports)

RIO DE JANEIRO — At 36 years old and surrounded by NBA talent, Pau Gasol is still El Rey of Spanish basketball.

Gasol led Spain to its third straight Olympic medal, scoring 31 points (making 12 of his 15 shots) and grabbing 11 rebounds in an incredible bronze medal game against Australia.

After an incredible, back-and-fourth second half (in which the teams combined for 99 points), the game went down to the wire and was decided by a tough foul call on Patty Mills that gave Spain’s Sergio Rodriguez two free throws with 5.4 seconds left.

After a timeout, Australia tried to run a hand-off play for Mills, but Ricky Rubio got his hand on the ball, Australia was never able to get a shot off, and Spain escaped with an 89-88 victory.

Another medal for Spain and Gasol, the clear MVP of this tournament (given how many different guys have stepped up for the U.S. in its run to the gold medal game).

“He’s amazing,” Rubio said of Gasol afterward. “There’s no words to describe the way he dominates FIBA basketball. He’s one of the best ever and that’s why he put Spain on the map. Of course, we’ve had great players around him, but he’s the key of this generation.”

“It’s not only about just his game,” Jose Calderon added. “It’s about leadership. It’s about a lot of things. He’s been great for us forever and he’s still got some more years, I think, on him.”

More years for the national team?

“I really don’t know how the process is going to play out,” Gasol said. “I love playing for my national team. That’s pretty obvious. I have a lot of fun. I feel something special when I play for the national team, something unique. I always said that I’d like to do it as long as I can.

“I’m just enjoying the ride and I’m going to continue to work hard to extend it.”

Rough finish for the Boomers

Australia bounced back after an ugly performance in Friday’s semifinal against Serbia, but its finish is still such a huge disappointment for what looked like a clear medal favorite through pool play and the quarterfinals. Australia has now reached the Olympic semifinals on four occasions and finished fourth each time.

“My two worst games of the tournament were the last two games,” said Andrew Bogut, who fouled out with 7:54 to go in the third quarter on Sunday. “That’s going to eat at me for the next couple of days.”

Mirotic banged up

Nikola Mirotic helped Spain get off to a strong start with eight points in the first quarter. He injured his right knee in a collision with Aron Baynes early in the fourth, but returned after a brief stint on the bench and finished with 14 points and seven rebounds.

Afterward, Mirotic said the initial injury scared him “a lot,” saying the collision was “very strong, knees against knees.”

“But it was the last five minutes of the tournament,” he continued. “I didn’t want to miss that opportunity to play. I was hot in that moment too, so I didn’t feel a lot of pain. Right now, I’m feeling hurt. But it’s OK. We won the medal. That’s the most important thing. Hopefully, this is nothing. I need to do some tests now and I expect it’s all good.”

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Team USA one win from gold | Serbia hopes for gold | How James and the Cavs came back from down 3-1

No. 1: Team USA one win from gold —Heading into the 2016 Olympics in Rio, expectations for the USA Basketball Men’s National Team were sky high. And while they may have struggled to reach some of those expectations, and haven’t blown out every opponent along the way, with Friday’s 82-76 win over Spain, Team USA is now in the gold medal game, one win from leaving Rio with their ultimate goal accomplished. Against Spain, with the offense struggling to pull away, it was the defense of DeAndre Jordan that helped Team USA survive and advance. As our own John Schuhmann writes, Jordan has embraced his role with Team USA …

The U.S. offense was never pretty on Friday. It only once scored on more than three straight possessions. Kevin Durant (14 points on 6-for-13 shooting) and Kyrie Irving (13 points on 5-for-9) were held in check. Klay Thompson led the U.S. with 22 points, but had rough moments shooting. After scoring 129 points per 100 possessions through its first six games, the U.S. scored just 82 points on 74 possessions (111 per 100) on Friday.

The second half (37 points on 39 possessions) was particularly ugly. This was not a repeat of the last two gold medal games in which the U.S. beat Spain 118-107 and 107-100.

“It was a different type of game,” Mike Krzyzewski said afterward. “It was a very hard game. It wasn’t easy flowing and both teams had to make big plays.”

Jordan made a lot of them. With the 6-11 center being disruptive on pick-and-rolls and at the rim, a potent Spanish team was held to just three scores on its first 10 possessions, allowing the U.S. to build an early, 14-7 lead that it never gave up. Jordan blocked Nikola Mirotic on Spain’s third possession, deflected a Sergio Llull pass on the next one, and forced Llull into shooting a tough, rainbow foul-line jumper two possessions after that.

“The key of the game was their defense, their athleticism, their size,” Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said. “They made our offense get difficult during most possessions.”

Pau Gasol led all scorers with 23 points, but needed 19 shots to get them. Jordan allowed him some open threes, but forced him into tough shots in the paint and a few turnovers.

Every night, somebody else has stepped up for the U.S. Carmelo Anthony, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and Paul George have all had their signature games. Though he scored just nine points and made just one of his four free throws, this game belonged to Jordan.

“He’s locked in,” Kyle Lowry said. “He wants this medal. He wants it really bad. I think we all want it and tonight he just led by example. We just feed off his energy.”

That energy came on both ends of the floor. Jordan not only affected Spain’s shots and passes, he helped get his team extra possessions. Jordan was only credited with three offensive rebounds, but got his hands on a couple of others. The U.S. finished with 21 offensive boards and 25 second-chance points.

“His activity sometimes didn’t translate in the stats,” Krzyzewski said, “but it translated into disruptive play or taking away from the continuity that Spain normally has.”

Jordan’s skill set isn’t necessarily a great fit for the international game, which values spacing and perimeter shooting. But his combination of size and athleticism can overwhelm smaller, more ground-bound opponents. And every single opponent is smaller or more ground-bound.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Spanish veteran Juan Carlos Navarro thought he had a clear lane to the basket on a fast break. But Jordan came along and erased Navarro’s shot, his fourth block of the afternoon. And by the end of the game, he had 16 rebounds.

Krzyzewski has shuffled his lineups (both the starting lineup and bench units that get extended run) much more than usual in this tournament. But he’s seems to have found a formula that works. Cousins better complements the defensive perimeter of Lowry, Butler and George, while Jordan fits better on the starting lineup with an offensive backcourt of Irving and Thompson.

As he is with the LA Clippers, he’s the role-playing complement to the stars.

“I have one job on this team and that’s to come out and play with as much energy as I can on both ends of the floor,” Jordan said. “I’m used to doing that. That’s the type of player that I am, so it just comes naturally. Anything I can do for this team to help us advance and keep winning, I’m going to do that. And I take pride in it.”

***

No. 2: Serbia hopes for gold —Team USA’s path to gold still has one major hurdle, as they will play against a streaking Serbia squad on Sunday in the gold medal game. Serbia advanced to the gold medal match yesterday by blowing out Australia 87-61. As our own John Schuhmann writes from Rio, Serbia still has designs on going home with gold …

For the second straight time in a major international tournament, it will be the United States vs. Serbia for the gold medal. And for the second time, Serbia has followed mediocre pool play results with an impressive run in the elimination rounds.

At the 2014 World Cup of Basketball, Serbia went 2-3 in pool play, beating only the two teams – Egypt and Iran – that didn’t advance out of Group A and losing to the other three teams – France, Brazil and Spain – that did. Then it beat Greece (the top seed from Group B), Brazil and France before losing to the U.S. in the final.

In these Olympics, Serbia went 2-3 in pool play, beating only the two teams – Venezuela and China – that didn’t advance out of Group A and losing to the other three teams – Australia, France and USA – that did. And now it has beat Croatia (the top seed from Group B) and Australia to face the U.S., once again, in the final.

On Friday, Serbia never trailed, beating Australia 87-61 in the second semifinal and earning their first Olympic medal in men’s basketball (since the break-up of Yugoslavia). The question now is whether it will be gold or silver.

The U.S. won the ’14 gold medal game by 37 points, but only beat Serbia by three last Friday, allowing Serbia to shoot 52 percent. The U.S. defense has shown improvement since then, but will be tested by Serbia’s passing and the playmaking (and shotmaking) of point guard Milos Teodosic.

“We gave them a pretty good fight,” Serbian big man Miroslav Raduljica said about last week’s meeting, “showed that they’re not unbeatable, and that we can play against them.”

Going to settle for silver?

“No, never,” Raduljica replied. “We are Serbian.”

***

No. 3: How James and the Cavs came back from down 3-1 After engineering a comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals, LeBron James has taken some time off this summer. But in this wide-ranging interview with Business Insider, James recalls the Cavs being down 3-1 in the Finals and how he and the Cavs were able to come from behind to win the title …

James: We lost our defensive pressure. Golden State turned up the pressure, and they were able to steal our home-court advantage to go up 3-1.

So I’m sitting at home, recalibrating and thinking about the game. And everyone is kind of down at that point. For me as a leader, I couldn’t allow myself to get in a funk. I just started to try and recalibrate and say, “Listen, we’ve got to go to Golden State for game five. We’ve got to come home anyways. So why not come home and give our fans another game, and give them an opportunity to have a game six?”

And that was my mindset. I was very relaxed going out to Golden State for game five, and obviously we saw what happened in that game. I was extremely confident in my teammates’ abilities throughout game five, and then coming home in game six to our fans, who are ecstatic and crazy as can be.

And then, in game seven, it’s one game. It’s sudden death, and it doesn’t matter what’s going on at that point. I believe in one game, I’m going to take myself every time.

If you just give me one game for it all, I’m going to take it myself. And we were able to do something that’s never been done, like you mentioned, a comeback from 3-1. And to win it on their home floor — it was an amazing feat for our franchise.

Shontell: You told a great story on the Jesse Williams “Open Run” podcast you just launched about how you spent that night of game four. You sent a group text to your troops, and you said — what did you say?

James: We have a group chat throughout the season where we talk about everything, with all the guys. We talk about everything from “Hey, this is what time we’re doing dinner” to “This is what time the bus is” or just mentally preparing for games.

I was sitting at home with my wife, and we we’re watching Eddie Murphy‘s stand-up comedy [“Raw”] because I wanted to get my mind off the game and bring some more joy into the room. And then I sent a group chat text to my guys, saying, “OK, listen: It doesn’t matter what just happened. And I know we’re all down about it, but in order for us to accomplish what no one believes we can do, we have to refocus and we have to re-lock in. You guys do your part, and I promise you, as the leader of the team, I won’t let you down. Just follow my lead.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Pau Gasol thinks Spain may have squandered their best chance for Olympic gold … Dwyane Wade says he’s always embraced being the underdog … Will the All-Star Game in New Orleans help Anthony Davis find his mojo? … Randy Foye wants to give back this season in Brooklyn … The Denver Nuggets have reportedly agreed to a deal with free agent Nate WoltersJames Harden was at Old Trafford yesterday for Manchester United’s 2-0 win over Southampton …

Gasol’s status in question for Friday’s semifinals

From NBA.com staff reports

Spain stalwart Pau Gasol could miss Friday’s Olympic semifinal game against the United States with a calf injury, coach Sergio Scariolo told the Spanish-speaking media on Thursday.

“He is not well, I cannot say for sure that he is going to play,” he said as translated by Eurohoops.net. “We continue with his treatments and the truth is that we needed him right now. We hope his condition (will improve) and at least be ready to help as much as he can. I cannot say anything more right now.”

Losing Gasol would be a huge blow for Spain, which has won four straight games in dominant fashion after an 0-2 start in Olympic group play.

The 7-foot Gasol, who recently signed with the San Antonio Spurs, has been a mainstay in the team’s lineup since his first senior appearance in 2001, leading them to the 2006 FIBA World Championship and EuroBasket titles in 2009, 2011 and 2015. The 14-year NBA veteran is averaging a team-high 17 points on 51.3 shooting in six Olympic games this summer.

U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said he expects Gasol to play in Friday’s game (2:30 p.m. ET), which will mark the fourth straight Olympics the two international rivals. The U.S. is 11-0 all-time against Spain at the Olympics, including gold medal victories in 1984, 2008 and 2012.

“We don’t pay any attention to that,” he said.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 244) Summer Games

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Patriotism. Drama. Intrigue. Tom Foolery (Ryan Lochte). World class competition in every sporting endeavor, familiar and foreign.

We’ve gotten it all and more from the Rio Olympics, and that includes plenty of drama and intrigue from the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team in their quest to win gold (they face Spain in Friday’s semifinals).

Will they or won’t they make it through? The basketball world awaits the answer from Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the rest of the NBA stars who made the trip.

Meanwhile, those of us not in Rio are left to ponder the possibilities, beyond Rio and what’s in store for the stars there and those who are watching from afar. LeBron James (who has been extremely busy this summer after ending Cleveland’s 52-year title drought in June) has already admitted that he wishes he was in Rio playing and has not ruled out future Olympic competitions. He’s also talked about his dreams and aspirations beyond his playing career, things we’ve rarely heard him speak on in the past.

Listening to LeBron reflect on the bigger picture inspired us to do the same this week here at headquarters. How many guys have done what he’s done, lived up to the hype, really exceeded by most estimates, while maintaining some semblance of order in their lives?

How many guys have gone from phenom/can’t-miss-prospect to the future Hall of Fame/all-time great heights LeBron has scaled and conquered during his career?

The list is short in any sport (with decorated Olympians Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt and others representing this summer), and LeBron might sit at the very top, even with plenty of years in his playing career still ahead of him.

We go off the map on this and so much more, including a mention of volleyball’s greatest competitor and one of my favorite all-time Olympians, Karch Kiraly, on Episode 244 of The Hang Time Podcast … Summer Games.

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

***

Spain reaches semifinals, ends Parker’s national team career

RIO DE JANEIRO — From an 0-2 start to a berth in the semifinals, Spain has turned into, maybe, the best team in the Olympic Men’s Basketball tournament. The European champs are certainly the best defensive team at this point.

A French team that scored 97 points against the United States on Sunday was held to just 67 points on 39 percent shooting in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. Spain rolled into the semis and a potential matchup with the U.S. with a 25-point victory over their European rivals.

To get the rematch of the last two gold medal games, the U.S. will need to beat Argentina Wednesday night. Spain (4-2) took care of business by outscoring France 50-33 over the middle two quarters.

Pau Gasol took a back seat in the offense and looked to get his teammates going early. The strategy worked and some pretty ball movement led to an open Nikola Mirotic corner 3-pointer that gave Spain the lead for good at 9-8. France was within three at the end of the first quarter, but the Knicks’ Willy Hernangomez scored six points on an 8-1 Spain run to start the second.

Mirotic had 16 points by halftime. He was matched up with Boris Diaw most of the afternoon, but switches allowed him to score inside against Nicolas Batum or drive around Rudy Gobert. And the passing of Spain’s guards allowed him to consistently get open beyond the arc.

“I felt like Spain was the Spurs tonight,” Tony Parker said afterward, “and I was on the other side.”

The game marked the end of Parker’s national team career.

“Tony Parker,” French coach Vincent Collet said, “is the best French player for ever.”

Mirotic finished with a game-high 23 points, shooting 5-for-8 from 3-point range.

“When he learns when to shoot and when to play for the team,” Ricky Rubio said of Mirotic, “it’s unstoppable. He had an amazing game today. He was the key. But not just that, I think he’s really learning to be important on defense too.”

France couldn’t get things going offensively like it did against the United States on Sunday. Parker scored 14 points on 4-for-9 shooting, but Batum (0 points, 0-for-2) was invisible on offense. Credit the Spain defense, which has allowed less than 92 points per 100 possessions in its four games against teams that made the quarterfinals.

“We didn’t lose control at any moment,” Rubio said about his team’s recovery from its 0-2 start, “even though our situation wasn’t the best. We played as a team. Nobody stepped up as an individual and everybody stepped up as a teammate.”

Blogtable: Your level of concern for Team USA?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Level of concern for Team USA? | Will Warriors, Cavs meet in 2017 Finals? |
Who will have biggest impact on Knicks?


> As we head into the quarterfinals in Rio, what’s the level of concern for Team USA? And who do you see as the biggest threat to snap the USA’s gold-medal streak?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I ultimately think Team USA’s biggest concern will be the apathy that they’ll generate by winning gold again but not dominating the way the Dream Team did in ’92 or (in people’s memories at least) other editions of this NBA star-studded national squad did. There are reasons for the closer scores, some owing to the competition, some to holes in the U.S. team. But I think there will be a healthy mixture of respect for foes and fear of failure now for Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony et al that will see them through. Biggest threat? It’s all relative, but give me Australia, which has some brassy NBA players in Andrew Bogut, Matthew Dellavedova and Patty Mills; some healthy disrespect for a few of their pro peers, and a pesky defensive style that might already be in the U.S. stars’ heads.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It shocked me to read comments from Americans that essentially admitted surprise that many of the other teams are actually playing like teams, passing the ball, etc. If Team USA wants to stand around and play 1-on-1 “hero” ball, they could lose any game left to anybody. I wouldn’t have believed that before the Olympics began. I thought they had the proper mindset. But the team simply seems to have fallen back into many of the old, bad habits. Where the hell is the defense? Definitely looking more and more like time for a change. They could use a big dose of Gregg Popovich biting them in the butt right about now.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The level of concern is cool. Not warm or hot. Yes, there have been some relatively close calls and the ride a bit bumpy, but here in the money round I don’t see the US exposing much vulnerability. The biggest threat to snap Team USA’s streak is Team USA. Only a sloppy performance would leave the Americans open to being upset by an opportunistic country such as Spain.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The level of concern is high. The defense is the worst it’s been under Mike Krzyzewski and the Olympic field is stronger than ever, with all eight remaining teams having hopes for a medal. Still, Spain is once again the biggest threat to beat the U.S. After a sluggish first three games, Pau Gasol and his team have found their gear, crushing Lithuania on Saturday and beating Argentina handily on Monday. They have a tough test themselves in the quarterfinals, with a France team that beat them in Madrid two years ago. But if USA and Spain meet in the semis, it may be a toss-up.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: My level of concern is significant. I hope it’s the same for the members of the team as they face a very real threat from Argentina first and foremost, and either France or Spain in the semifinal round. The U.S. is at its best when it treats every opponent like a credible threat, even the teams that we all know should not come close to touching the NBA stars. In London four years ago, that attitude was prevalent. That team attacked the opposition in a way that made clear that the U.S. would not leave the games without gold. There was always a feeling in the building that no matter how hard the other team played, they would ultimately come up short. I don’t know what it feels like inside the building this time around, but I know what it looks like from afar. And I haven’t seen that same sense of urgency in Rio.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The defense has been alarming. The USA has allowed 92 points over the last three games (equivalent to yielding 110 points over a 48-minute NBA game). Their opponents over the final three rounds – if the US gets that far – all know how to share the ball and move without it, beginning with the clever Argentines in the quarterfinal. The most dangerous opponent will emerge in the semis: France (Tony Parker) and Spain (Pau Gasol) each has the great player capable of leading and finishing the upset. For the Americans, assuming they can’t resolve their fundamental lapses on defense, the question comes down to which one or two of them is going to own this tournament in the way that LeBron James owned it in 2012. If they’re not capable of winning with fluid teamwork, then someone (Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, and/or Kyrie Irving) is going to have to take on the responsibility of carrying them.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: We’re not supposed to be concerned, right? After all, all we’ve heard is what a strong defensive team this is, and we know that the Team USA brass had their pick of dozens of players before curating this particular dozen, so why should there be any concern? Oh wait, I know why! Because this team seems awkwardly constructed. Or because their defense has never come together, and because the default offense seems to be clearing out and going one-on-one. This group is clearly talented, but they just can’t seem to get on the same page. Even if they can’t get things figured out, they will probably still win gold. But to me, Team USA’s biggest threat is themselves.

2016 Olympic quarterfinals preview

RIO DE JANEIRO — The 2016 Olympic basketball tournament is wide open. Eight great teams remain and every one of them has a chance at a medal.

The United States is the only undefeated team among them and carries a 50-game winning streak in international tournaments into the quarterfinals. But, it has looked vulnerable over its last three games, allowing Australia, Serbia and France to score more than 110 points per 100 possessions. If it doesn’t get enough offense in any of its next three games, the U.S. can lose.

And every other team can win. The only team in the quarterfinals that doesn’t have a quality win in Rio is Serbia. But Serbia lost to France by one and had a wide-open three to send its game vs. the U.S. to overtime. And, oh yeah, Serbia won silver at the 2014 World Cup, having beat Greece, Brazil and France to get to the final (after, just like this year, picking up no quality wins in pool play).

Here’s a rundown of each of Wednesday’s quarterfinals…

Pace = Possessions per 40 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Stats are from games vs. remaining teams. For full Olympic pace & efficiency stats, go here. (more…)

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Fear factor vanishing for Olympic team? | Group B gets crazy in Rio | Lebron’s new deal about more than money | Thomas convinced rest of the league knows Celtics are on the rise

No. 1: Fear factor vanishing for Olympic team? — All it takes is a couple of close calls in Olympic competition for the legion of doubters to appear for Team USA in Rio. That aura of invincibility vanishes with each and every tight game survived by this current group of All-Stars led by superstars Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Kyrie Irving. Michael Lee of The Vertical shines a light on the turning tide in Rio as Mike Krzyzewski and his coaching staff continue to search for an identity for this particular group (perhaps in time for today’s game against France, 1:15 p.m. ET):

The hilarious Snapchat prank sessions, Facebook sing-alongs and Instagram video shenanigans were much more entertaining than the actual games for the United States men’s Olympic basketball team through a barnstorming exhibition tour and two effortless but sloppy beat-downs to start these games in Brazil. But just as this group was headed toward earning the playful title of the Meme Team, the Americans have encountered some genuine adversity in their past two games that – if mistakes aren’t corrected or adjustments not made – could find them on the wrong side of the joke.

Team USA might survive these Olympics unscathed. Ten All-Stars, including a former MVP, might prove to be all that the Americans need to escape the Rio games with gold medals around their necks. Getting shoved around by Australia and gasping for air until Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic’s potential tying 3-pointer drew iron, however, should give anyone pause that “the real world” – as coach Mike Krzyzewski has dubbed his team’s current predicament against superior opponents – is theirs to dominate. The Americans won’t be beatable until they actually lose, but the veil of invincibility has been exposed in too-close-for-comfort wins against Australia and Serbia.

“They are just players,” said Serbian center Nikola Jokic, the promising Denver Nugget who bludgeoned the U.S. for a game-high 25 points in a 94-91 loss. “If you think about who they are, you are not going to be good at this. Maybe Australia showed us they can get beat. They can get beat.”

Even without LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, James Harden or Chris Paul, the talent on Team USA is overwhelming in comparison to the other teams in this tournament. The performances have been extremely underwhelming, though, exposing the vulnerabilities and deficiencies without those aforementioned stars.

The off-court camaraderie that this group has developed appears authentic, as players have repeatedly discussed the bonds that have been formed in less than a month. But they are still learning to play with each other. Before confronting a fearless group from Australia, Team USA’s games were played at All-Star Game-level intensity and provided little in the form of preparation for what would be in store against legitimate competition outside the United States. The ease with which won made it easy to overlook that the team has 10 players making their Olympic debuts, including six who have never played any international competitions.

The Americans have all been asked to assume roles that are different than the ones they play on their NBA teams and the adjustment has been far from seamless. On the previous two Olympic gold medal-winning teams, Paul or James controlled the floor, Kobe Bryant embraced the role as defensive stopper, Dwyane Wade and later Westbrook came off the bench as cold-blooded assassins and Chris Bosh and later Tyson Chandler served as the defensive anchor protecting the rim and covering mistakes.

Through four games, this team is still waiting for those positions to be filled. Wins over Australia and Serbia were claimed in disjointed, grinding fashion. 

Team USA hasn’t looked sharp. Winning the past two games by a combined 13 points makes it obvious that something is amiss, but before trouncing Venezuela by 43, the Americans were tied with one of the worst teams in Group A after the first period.

“We got to expect this,” said DeMarcus Cousins. “Every time we step on the floor, guys are going to give us their best effort, everybody wants to beat Team USA. We know that coming in, but at the same time, we can’t crumble the way we’ve done the past two games. Right now, we’re hurting ourselves. Not taking away credit of how Serbia played, because they played amazing tonight. But we’ve got to be a lot stronger mentally.”

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Group B gets crazy

RIO DE JANEIRO — Group B in the Olympic Men’s Basketball tournament promised to be, with five teams with medal hopes and only four tickets to the quarterfinals, the more interesting of the two groups. And it has already been more interesting that we could have imagined. Through four days of action, every team in Group B has at least one win and one loss.

And on a day where Spain may have righted its ship and two rivals produced an instant classic, Nigeria threw another wrinkle in the standings with an upset of Croatia. And with one more day to go, every team is still alive.

Argentina wins double-OT classic

Andres Nocioni is 36 years old and hasn’t played in the NBA in four years. But put “El Chapu” in an Argentina uniform for the final time (we think), and he can do special things.

On Saturday afternoon, Nocioni played more than 47 minutes and scored 37 points (the high for the Olympics thus far) in Argentina’s 111-107, double-overtime victory over Brazil. The atmosphere, with the two South American rivals facing off in Brazil’s gym, was incredible. The stakes were high and the game delivered the goods.

“No matter what sport or whatever’s going on, if it’s Brazil against Argentina, it’s going to be a battle,” incoming Spurs rookie Patricio Garino (who had several key steals) said afterward. “The atmosphere was unbelievable. Playing in this kind of setting is going to be memories for life.”

Facundu Campazzo added 33 points and 11 assists for Argentina, but the biggest play of the game was an offensive rebound from the 5-11 point guard off a Manu Ginobili miss in the final seconds of regulation. With Argentina down three, Campazzo found Nocioni, whose step-back three tied the game with 3.9 seconds left.

Brazil couldn’t get a good shot off at the end of regulation, and Ginobili’s runner to win was off the mark at the end of the first overtime. Campazzo started the second OT off with two threes and Argentina withstood a big flurry from Leandro Barbosa to pull out the win, with Ginobili securing the game with another critical offensive rebound in the final seconds.

“What we did today was big, everybody, because we fight, we play hard, and we try to compete,” Nocioni said. “We lost control of the game sometimes, but always, we try to keep going, keep going.”

Nene (24 points, 11 rebounds) had a big game for Brazil, but the hosts are facing a disappointing scenario if they don’t qualify for the quarterfinals. They looked to be in good shape after beating Spain in their second game, but have come up just short in each of their other three, having lost them by a total of just 14 points.

Twelve years after they won it all in Athens, Argentina’s golden generation (with some help from a 25-year-old point guard) is still alive and will be in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. No matter what happens from now on, it’s already been a fun last ride … if it has indeed the last ride.

“It was the last ride four years ago,” Nocioni said with a laugh. “Maybe, you never know, maybe we’re coming back in Tokyo.”

Spain looks strong again

After losing to Croatia and Brazil and struggling to pull away against Nigeria, Spain (2-2) played its best game on Saturday night, thumping previously unbeaten Lithuania 109-59. Because they don’t have the tiebreaker vs. Brazil, Spain’s elimination games began Saturday. And they got the first one they needed to stay alive.

“We had two finals,” Ricky Rubio said afterward. “Today we came to play, and Monday, it’s another final.”

Pau Gasol (23 points, five rebounds, five assists, two blocks, 5-for-5 from 3-point range) dominated his matchup with Jonas Valanciunas (0-for-6). Rubio (3-for-4 from 3-point range) finally hit a few jumpers and kept Lithuania on its heels defensively. And Nikola Mirotic (17 points, 8-for-11 shooting) was strong inside and out.

Spain is missing Marc Gasol, but still could be the second best team in the tournament when it’s all said and done. Of course, it could also be going home early if it doesn’t beat Argentina on Monday.

“We were trying to find our DNA out there [in the first two games], and I think we found it [Saturday],” Rubio said. “We haven’t done anything special yet, but I think we’re on the right track.”

Nigeria stays alive

Nigeria was, seemingly, the one team in Group B that didn’t have a shot at advancing to the quarterfinals. But suddenly, it’s still alive with a stunning, 90-76 victory over Croatia in Saturday’s late game. The 3-point shooting tells the story. Nigeria was 17-for-36 from beyond the arc, while Croatia was 6-for-28.

Croatia has quality wins over Spain and Brazil and could have clinched a spot in the quarterfinals with a win Saturday. But it’s future is now in some doubt.

Bottom line from Group B: Argentina (3-1) and Lithuania (3-1) are in the quarterfinals, while Spain (2-2) and Croatia (2-2) control their own destiny. Brazil (1-3) and Nigeria (1-3) need help.

Big games Monday

And here’s a rundown of Monday’s slate …

  • Brazil (1-3) vs. Nigeria (1-3) – 1:15 p.m. ET – The winner of this game is still alive, while the loser is eliminated. A Brazil win also means that Croatia clinches a spot in the quarterfinals.
  • Argentina (3-1) vs. Spain (2-2) – 6 p.m. ET – If Brazil wins the first game, Spain needs to win to stay alive, because it will have lost to the two teams (Brazil and Croatia) it could possibly be tied with at 2-3.
  • Croatia (2-2) vs. Lithuania (3-1) – 9:30 p.m. ET – Lithuania clinches the top seed in Group B with a win. Croatia needs to win to stay alive if Nigeria wins the first game.

If two teams are tied, the tiebreaker is head-to-head. So Brazil and Croatia both have the tiebreaker over Spain.

If multiple teams are tied, the tiebreaker goes to the team with the best record in games between those teams. If that’s even — say Croatia, Nigeria and Spain all tie at 2-3 — it comes down to point differential in games between those teams. In the aforementioned scenario, Spain (plus-7) would finish third, Nigeria (plus-5) would finish fourth, and Croatia (minus-12) would be eliminated.

If Spain beat Argentina and Croatia beat Lithuania, we would have a four-way tie at 3-2 for first place. Stay tuned …

Group A wraps Sunday

Group A is much more easier to figure out. The U.S. needs to beat France (1:15 ET) to clinch first place, because a loss could produce (if Australia beats Venezuela) a three-way tie between Australia, France and the U.S. In that case, point differential in the games between the three teams (who would all be 1-1 within the group) would determine the seeds. Australia beat France by 21, while the U.S. only beat Australia by 10, so a France win on Sunday would put Australia in first place and drop the U.S. to second (or third if it lost by 16 or more).

If the U.S. beats France, Australia is second (no matter its result) and France is third. Venezuela, meanwhile, can stay alive with a win over Australia (6 p.m. ET), but Serbia would take fourth (and eliminate Venezuela) with a win over China in the late game (9:30 p.m. ET).