Senior writer Alex Wolff was at the Olympic Basketball Gymnasium in Beijing for the U.S. men's basketball team's 101-70 victory over China. SI.com caught up with Wolff shortly after the final buzzer:
SI.com: What was the scene like at the arena?Wolff: It was packed to the gills. They didn't ticket this event for the press, figuring 600 tabled and non-tabled seats would be plenty. But there were members of the media standing three and four-deep around every railing on the concourses. You could tell a lot of the Chinese fans were official in some capacity. It was a decorous and enthusiastic crowd, but decorous in the way a Final Four crowd can be. This was an incredibly tough ticket to get. It was $400 or $500 base and we were hearing stories of up to thousands of dollars from scalpers.
SI.com: Did you learn anything about the U.S. team tonight?Wolff: Well, they are frighteningly good in transition. You have to keep them out of transition. If you have Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade thundering down the floor, it is a no-hoper. This crowd throughout the tournament will eat that up. Even playing against China, the crowd loved that. The key to even staying in the game with the U.S. is transition defense, taking good shots and making sure you take enough of them so they can't completely beat you in the transition game.
SI.com: The game was tight early before the U.S. ran away with it. What happened?Wolff: It all hinged on China's ability to hit threes and they were terrific early. I think the U.S. was 1-for-12 in the first half and I think China hit about half of its threes. That kept it close. Every time China missed, it seemed the U.S. would fast break its way down to a dunk. Clearly, the stakes were high every time China launched a three. If they were not going to make a three, the U.S. was off and running. So essentially what happened was when fatigue set in, the threes stopped dropping for China and there was no way to stop the thunder of the U.S. heading down the court. The U.S. was not shooting really well from three and that gave China a little opening to keep it close, which was important for the spectacle of this. It was important that we got into the second quarter with a tight game. I think that really will make a difference in how this game will be perceived, regardless of the final score.
SI.com: Did the game have any signature moments?Wolff: For me, the great moments of the game were the couple of times where the Chinese made great athletic plays against the very best U.S. players. Yao [Ming] blocked a Kobe drive early in the first quarter, which was just a beautiful and clean weak side help block. In the second half, Yi Jianlian dunked over Dwight Howard. Those were two great NBA plays by two NBA players who happen to be Chinese.
SI.com: Can China be a factor in this tournament?Wolff: I think they could be given that they are playing at home and given that it looks like Yao did not hurt himself for the long term. But they have a very small margin for error. They are counting on beating Angola, which beat them the last time these two teams played, and they will have to beat either Germany or Greece to advance to the quarterfinals. That's really the goal. Yao has not done what LeBron has done -- guaranteed a gold -- but he sort of guaranteed they would get to the quarterfinals.
SI.com: How did the crowd treat the U.S. team?Wolff: It was not as close to 50-50 as I would have thought, but they celebrated the dunks and there were huge cheers when they took the floor. Kobe got the greatest welcome. All in all, it was a very respectful reception. It set a really good tone. This was nothing like the tone in Athens, nor should it be. If China can stay within 30 points or so, teams like Croatia and Greece, not even to mention Lithuania and Argentina and Spain, are poised to make real runs at these guys.
Reporter to LeBron on Saturday: "What happens if you lose to China?James: We won't.Reporter: That means you're guaranteeing a win?James: I already guaranteed the gold. You want me to guarantee a win?
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