Today the US Men’s basketball team took on the only country to have beaten the States twice since they started using NBA players—Argentina. Led by the Spurs' Manu Ginobli and the Suns’ Luis Scola, the South American squad looked great in the first half, only trailing by one at the break. Then it all changed. The US came out of the locker room on fire and scorched Argentina in the third quarter, outscoring them 42-17, with Kevin Durant leading the way. The game ended with the States winning 126 -97 to remain undefeated as group play concludes and the knockout rounds begin. We had three takeaways from this last preliminary contest:
1. Kevin Durant’s shooting range is only confined by the dimensions of the court.
The NBA scoring champ—and I’ll say it, future league MVP—had the type of shooting night from range that conjured up memories of those Youtube videos of him draining threes in pickup games during the lockout last summer. In that third quarter Deron Williams or Chris Paul would get him the ball in rhythm, he’d take a step in a nail a shot and it didn’t matter from where. At one point he decided to bring the house down by shooting from nearly 10 feet from behind the arc. When LeBron James is on the bench with foul trouble like he was today, it’s clear who America will be calling on to carry the load for the team.
2. USA Basketball should just promote Mike D’Antoni to head coach.
When the States went on that massive run in the third quarter to let Argentina know that they should disregard all hopes and aspirations of winning this game, that wasn't a conventional half court offense. They weren't working down the clock before putting up a shot. No, they got down the court, made one or two quick passes to a shooter in rhythm and that player drained the bucket. It was the classic D’Antoni “Seven Seconds Or Less” offense where the number of possessions are maximized and scoring is high. It worked against a quality opponent like Argentina. And Team USA certainly has the depth to keep bringing in waves of fresh players to wear down their opponent. It also doesn't allow their opponent time to set up their zone. They might as well play the D'Antoni style because the US doesn’t have the bigs that can set up in the post and work a slow-down offense through anyway.
3. This tournament could get really chippy.
Listen, any of you who are fans of international soccer know that Argentineans have a reputation for diving. They’ve mastered to dark art of deceiving the referee. Ginobli got LeBron in foul trouble by running into the big man and then flailing as he fell to the ground. The refs bought the act and LeBron had to take a seat. In a closer game, this type of gamesmanship that leads to ticky tack calls and foul trouble could become a hindrance for the US.
But there’s another type of chippiness going on—one of a more malicious variety—which we saw late in today’s game. For all the comparisons to the 1992 Dream Team, this squad’s opponents are definitely bringing a different attitude than the countries back in 1992. Sure, Barkley says that the Angolan he elbowed had hit him first, but other than that, those teams were perfectly happy to take their whooping from the States from that first Dream Team. This time around, not so much. Some of these teams, like Argentina, have tasted victory against the USA and they want another bite. So when they start getting blown out and embarrassed, there’s a chance they’ll get upset and resort to some dirty tricks, like today when Carmelo Anthony was punched below the belt as he took a jumper. The US bench stood in protest and yapped toward Argentina and the tension between the two teams was palpable for the remainder of the game. Let’s see if any bad blood carries over if these two teams meet again in the semifinal round this week.