While the USA Basketball Showcase was much different from the 2014 version with a watered down roster and no injuries, there were highlights to be had on Thursday.
LAS VEGAS—The 2015 USA Basketball Showcase ended in the most appropriate way: With Blake Griffin looking to the heavens after missing an uncontested, off-the-backboard alley-oop.
USAB managing director Jerry Colangelo promised this year’s event, which was voluntary for prospective 2016 Rio Olympic candidates invited to a four-day minicamp this week, would be an “off-season type of All-Star Game,” and the exhibition lived up—or perhaps down—to that billing. USA White ultimately prevailed Thursday 134–128 over USA Blue at UNLV's Thomas & Mack Center in a lighthearted, easy-going game that was a gumbo of blown dunks, missed three-pointers by big men who shouldn’t be shooting them, and invisible interior defense.
The exhibition was defined more by who didn’t play than who did. The 18 players who suited up didn’t include any previous Olympians, although six members of USA’s gold medal-winning 2014 FIBA World Cup team—DeMarcus Cousins, DeMar DeRozan, Andre Drummond, Kenneth Faried, Rudy Gay, Mason Plumlee and Klay Thompson—did play. All-Stars Dwight Howard and Kyrie Irving were present, but they watched from the bench.
“Kyrie wasn’t throwing the alley-oops,” Krzyzewski quipped about the choppy play. “Centers were throwing the alley-oops. We didn’t put in an offense, so don’t judge us.”
So many of the 34 players invited to this week’s minicamp skipped out on the event that USAB organizers had to call on the likes of Amir Johnson, Terrence Jones, Elfrid Payton and Arron Afflalo to help fill out the rosters. The pro-am feel to the affair was completed by the fact that some of the call-ups wore generic USA jerseys that bore numbers but not their last names on the back.
Both teams seemed to take every precaution to avoid injury, and no one could blame them after Paul George’s horrific leg injury ended the 2014 USAB Showcase early. Whereas that game left some of its participants in tears, this year's version was all smiles. Thompson provided one of the highlights of the night by dribbling the ball through DeRozan's legs in transition, Victor Oladipo brought the crowd to its feet with his dunk on Michael Carter-Williams, and Faried drew laughs by standing with his hand on his waist, as if waiting impatiently in line at the supermarket, as he milked the clock down on the first half's final possession.
“Tonight was a lot different than a year ago at this time,” Colangelo said, referencing the loss of George. “We’re thankful and grateful we didn’t have any problems or injuries.”
USA White’s clear talent advantage eventually won out: White fielded three All-Stars (Griffin, Cousins and Thompson) and the top two Defensive Player of the Year finishers (Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green), while USA Blue had just one All-Star (DeRozan). One could argue that Griffin, Cousins, Thompson, Leonard and Green were the only players in the exhibition with a real shot at landing a spot on the 2016 Olympic roster.
Griffin, who unsurprisingly emerged as a fan favorite due to his numerous dunks, finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists for USA White, who was led by USAB assistant coach Tom Thibodeau.
Cousins led USA White with 24 points and 11 rebounds, but the 6'11'' center drew scattered boos as he missed all six of his three-point attempts. Plumlee added 20 points and 11 rebounds off the bench.
Drummond led USA Blue with a game-high 27 points and 16 rebounds. Oladipo chipped in 25 points, nine rebounds and five assists off the bench for USAB assistant Monty Williams.
The Showcase drew 12,211 fans, including former USAB Olympian Steve Smith and the boxer Floyd Mayweather, Jr.