Our Energy Would Simply Prevail
After winning by a paltry 27 points on Monday against Mexico, Team USA got back on track and downed Puerto Rico 117-78 in front of another shamefully small crowd in Las Vegas. Given Puerto Rico’s recent success against its imperial overlord, a thumping of this magnitude bodes well for the continued improvement of what looks like the obvious favorite to take the gold in Beijing. The first quarter brought some troubles, but Team USA rebounded to make the second half inconsequential yet again.
In the first quarter, Team USA seemed to carry a hangover from the Mexico game. At the offensive end, there was a noticeable lack of ball movement and a willingness to take threes, while the team’s play at the other end featured poor help defense and a generally poor effort. Puerto Rico didn’t look particularly wonderful, though, and the Americans were able to create an impressive 24-15 lead by the end of the quarter. You really can’t argue with that margin, but, for a team with this kind of talent, domination needs to be obvious to even the most ignorant viewer.
The second quarter brought exactly that kind of performance, with Team USA outscoring PR 35-12. The offensive difference, as it has been throughout the whole tournament, was the team’s excellent ball movement. The Puerto Rican zone held up decently in the first quarter, but it got thrown around like a village baseball in the second. Of course, it became much easier to beat the zone once Team USA got out in transition more often, something they can do quite easily because of their tournament-long commitment to defense and phenomenal depth. A team like PR, which only has a few legitimate players, can’t hope to maintain their level of intensity when that handful of guys has to play nearly every minute of the game if they want any chance of winning. As they have done in every game, Team USA turned the entire second half into extended garbage time.
LeBron continues to be one of the most impressive players on the team. During the Mexico game, Bill Walton made the thoroughly ludicrous observation that Kobe and LBJ have not adapted to the international game as quickly as Carmelo, which is incredibly weird to hear coming from someone who excelled at so many things in addition to scoring. LeBron has obviously impressed in the scoring column, but his commitment to defense and unselfish play have made him seem like a much more integral part of the team than Carmelo. His performance in this tournament makes Cleveland’s inability to give him help even more frustrating. Honestly, I’m not sure which is worse: Danny Ferry’s lollygagging on signing Pavlovic and Varejao or the fact that bringing back those two players would give the Cavs the same roster they had last season.
Amare Stoudemire hit a three during Team USA’s big run, which has me incredibly conflicted. On one hand, it’s hard to get upset with someone for improving his game, particularly when that player had a reputation for being all athleticism, no skill. However, Amare should not be spending his time on the perimeter; his talents and situation with the Suns require him to be a force inside. The 12-footer he developed last season is a perfect move for him, and there’s no reason for him to venture out farther when his team already has several excellent three-point shooters. If Amare’s not careful, the Shawn Kemp comparisons could become all too real.
Team USA trotted out a zone for a good portion of the second half, and, once again, the results were poor at best. I know that the international game in many ways promotes the use of zones, but a team with shot blockers like Howard, Amare, and Chandler (plus Bosh when he gets healthy) should focus on shoring up its help defense. Flexibility can be nice—I’m just not sure it’s warranted in this case.
Throughout the Tournament of the Americas, we’ve been noting some of Bill Walton’s weirdest comments. Up until now, I’d considered them to be nothing more than his way of bringing some bizarre perspective to the game, but some of Walton’s remarks in this game have me fearing for his sanity. Late in the game, Walton quoted full passages from Phil Jackson’s book Sacred Hoops as if it were a Ginsberg poem. The passages had some connection to the game in that they were about Jackson’s time in Puerto Rico, but Walton took up at least three possessions with his dramatic reading. The sad thing is that, while his insistence on quoting Jackson was incredibly odd, he immediately followed it up with an even crazier comment. After finishing his speech, Walton told partner Al Saunders that “for every 100 Americans, there are 90 guns in this country.” Huh? Again, that came right after he quoted Phil Jackson’s experiences in Puerto Rico at length. Let’s make sure someone’s watching Bill, okay?