USA v. Australia, and the Quarter Finals

Kurt —  August 19, 2008

UPDATE: My worst-case scenario held sway for about the first 15-minutes of the game, but in the third quarter in particular the USA’s defense took over, and that was the difference. KD emphasized the defense and Kobe’s role in his great roundup.

Craig W. said the same thing in the comments:

All the flash and dash was the reason we lost those other basketball games this last decade. The people who win these things play in the trenches and stop the other people. Players the world over can score. It is defense and how you transition both ways that wins championships – FIBA or NBA. Kobe takes the best scorer on the other team and all people talk about is how Lebron and Wade dominated the scoring. What they dominated is the defense – then they scored.

Next up, Argentina. A very good team where pace will be the key, but we’ll get to that down the line. Today we enjoy a good win.

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Laugh if you want, but I think the Australia — and the following game if it is Argentina — are going to be a bigger test to the Americans than another match up with Spain. Australia may be the team most capable of the “Greece game” that beats the United States.

The reason is that Australia brings to the table a couple of the things that will slow the US.

First is what Patrick Mills brings — a point guard that the USA must respect and may not succumb to the pressure defense. So far in this tournament the USA has forced turnovers on 23% of opponent possessions, that has led to those fast-break baskets they thrive on. If Mills can again handle the pressure — which needs to come from Paul and not Kidd for much of the game — it will be one thing to slow the game.

And slowing the game will be key. The USA has averaged 81 possessions a game so far in the round-robin play, Australia is at 73 (Argentina, by the way, is at 69). If the Aussies get back on defense, if they don’t turn the ball over, that will be the first big step. The USA just needs to run — after makes and misses.

And the USA needs to force misses. Australia’s hybrid-Princeton offense is very effective — the USA has an offensive rating in the Olympics 126 (points per 100 possessions), but Australia is second at 125.1. They are deliberate but they can score, both on the back cuts that have killed the USA in the past and from three. The USA must be focused in its half-court defense, watch the cuts and close out on shooters.

That will mean Dwight Howard with a lot of one-on-one time with Andrew Bogut. Howard should be able to hold his own but he cannot get in foul trouble. While Bosh has been great Bogut may be able to be physical with him on the block on offense.

Despite all that, to lose I think the USA would have to go cold from the outside, and Australia hasn’t defended well. They have let teams shoot 60.4% (eFG%) and have a defensive rating of 110 (sixth in the games). Once again, the USA should be able to score, either in the half court or on the run.

But Australia will be the biggest test for the USA yet, and we are now in the one-and-done phase. Argentina in the next round could do the same thing (slow pace, good outside shooters, a defense as good or better than Spain’s).

Play focused, play like they have and the USA wins. But take a night off and……

By the way, I think Lithuania and Spain should move on, but the Greece/Argentina game could be interesting.

Kurt

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26 responses to USA v. Australia, and the Quarter Finals

  1. Where did you get those efficiency stats?

  2. I usually error on the side of caution, but the US is going to smoke everyone in the medal rounds. Australia may have the distinction of being the one team that may be able to lose by just shy of 20 points.

    However, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the US is going to win by 30+ points because they probably respect Australia the most and will put the most effort into winning against them.

  3. 1. I meant to link this in the story (and will add it now):

    http://www.basketballprospectus.com/

    Click on the latest wrap up link and go to the bottom.

  4. I can understand the problems with 3pt shooting. In the NBA the 20′ shot is the least used and most missed shot for players. However, I just can’t understand why all the elite players are missing so many free throws. This is a matter of concentration and repetition. The only conclusion I can come to is that the USA is concentrating so much on the international game that there is less ‘brain space’ available to concentrate on the free throw. Add to this the fact that many players are near the end of their longest season and they are really tired – free throws seem to go first, along with fouling, when tired. The more physical game sort of covers up the fouling aspect.

  5. Finally, a breakthrough game for Kobe. Waxing hot and dominating the game. stepping up when it matters the most!

  6. It’s amazing how much better an Olympic team looks without Stephon Marbury on it.

  7. It’s amazing how much better any team looks without Marbury on it.

  8. After watching a few games now, LeBron is the best four Team USA has. And the best three, And I might have said the best two before the third quarter today.

  9. I remember when Stephon Marbury came out of Georgia Tech after one year. There were such high hopes and he seemed to have the perfect skills. It really is sad when a player expects the game to adjust to him and doesn’t develop his team building skills – especially a point guard as talented as Marbury.

  10. Lebron is a real force, but he also proves that you need a team, as Wilt, Kareem, Jordan, Shaq, and Kobe found out before him. With the NBA (read ESPN also) accent on the individual we continually lose track of the dominance of team over stars. We may have to have stars, but teams win – individual stars don’t.

  11. Kurt I agree though I’d say Wade has been the best two on the team. I didn’t think his game would transition to FIBA ball but I was wrong. James though has been the best player so far. He is just so big and strong and because of his quickness and ball handling ability no one on the other teams can match up against him.

  12. Sorry about the change of subjet and -again- because of my poor English.
    But I have to say this here, in my favourite bball blog:
    Thank you Argentina!!! What a team. I can’t believe it, we did it again.
    This is our worst team since Indianapolis 2002 and we still are there playing for the medals.
    Maybe it’s difficult to understand for you, but think about USA playing the soccer semifinals in 2 World Cups in a row, and in an Olympic Game…
    The top sport here is soccer, in second place you have… soccer; and in the third place… soccer again!!!
    So this is really amazing.
    We were 2nd in Indianapolis (Manu injured in the final game, we lost in overtime, a foul not called against Sconochini in the final shot, a lay up).
    We won the gold in Athens in 2004.
    We were fourth in Japan in 2006 (Nocioni couldn’t made a three at the buzzer, so close…).
    And now we are there again.

    So, now USA-Argentina in the semi. There’s a huge difference between those teams. The only way Argentina can make a close game is if can slow the pace, and shot well.
    If USA shot the three or force fouls in Argentina, game over in the 2nd quarter.

    I think you know every Argentinian player (Manu, Nocioni, Scola), you also know Oberto, but in Argentina plays different, he attacks the basket a lot more than in the Spurs. Delfino today looked like Manu in the Spurs, he came from the bench and scores 15 points in a row in the 4th quarter. And Priogini played very well, pressing the greeks when they were handling the ball and slowing the pace.

    But that’s all. We don’t have good PF or C in the bench, we missed Pepe Sanchez and Walter Herrmann. So –you can take a look at the minutes of our players- we have a very very short team.

    With a big heart.

  13. “Bryant scored 25 points in his best game in Beijing”

    That statement on the NBA page says it all. This was Kobe’s highest scoring game, but not necessarily his best. God how I hate the “talking heads”. The media people really, really don’t know basketball – Doug Collins may have played and coached,but he is completely fuzzy headed these days.

    All the flash and dash was the reason we lost those other basketball games this last decade. The people who win these things play in the trenches and stop the other people. Players the world over can score. It is defense and how you transition both ways that wins championships – FIBA or NBA. Kobe takes the best scorer on the other team and all people talk about is how Lebron and Wade dominated the scoring. What they dominated is the defense – then they scored.

    People on this blog are some of the most knowledgeable around and at least we ought to be talking about the all-around game and not just the scoring.

  14. Well said Craig, I included part of that in the update I just posted. Also a link to KD’s wrap.

  15. Well said Craig (#13). The D is what has really set this team apart, and unfortunately it was the Celts D that was our undoing as well!

  16. It was pretty funny hearing Kobe say that the USA was gambling too much on defense in the first quarter and that your man is most dangerous when he is off the ball.

    Phil Jackson hasn’t goten that through his thick skull in 10 years? Maybe Coach K really can teach!

  17. Bill Walton actually had some pretty good comments about Team USA. Here’s the link:

    http://sports.espn.go.com/broadband/video/videopage?videoId=3544396&categoryId=2378529

    I think that it’s obvious the Kobe, Jason Kidd, and Coach K are the real catalysts for the team we are seeing. They completely changed the culture of the team, making them into a hard-nosed juggernaut. Kobe has a killer instinct and work ethic that seems to permeate the air around the rest of the team, infecting them with the ability to stomp on the collective world’s jugulars.

    It is somewhat tragic that when the Redeem Team is looked back on, people will mostly think of the players offensive domination.

  18. Sorry to go off topic from the Aussie game, but lakerpauer got me thinking some…

    I actually think the players that have been the biggest difference are Kobe, Kidd (though, moreso in the qualifying run and the lead up to the Olympics), Lebron, and Wade.

    Realize that Wade is all about redemption. He’s a former Finals MVP and is one of the elite players in the world. The fact that many doubt him and only bring him up as an afterthought to the great players in the game has to tear him up inside and motivate him to no end. He’s playing like a madman in these games and his efficiency is just tremendous. I know that the other players respect him and his game. And to see him perform like he’s capable has to be an inspiration to this team and a key factor to its success.

    Realize too, that Lebron is truly one of the special talents the game has ever seen. He is becoming what everyone hoped he would become when the hype machine began back when he was only a Sophmore or Junior in H.S. His size/strength/speed/skill ratio is off the charts and he continues to get smarter and more motivated as a player. The other players (Kobe included) see his talent and know that he is one of the special players of this (and really, any) generation. I don’t think his contributions as a phenom can be overstated. He’s everywhere on offense and defense, and is also saying all the right things in the press and (presumably) in meetings/practices.

    Kobe is what we know him to be. But he’s also an elder statesmen on this team. Some of these guys were playing *as* Kobe in their backyards 6-8 years ago. So, to have him, completely motivated, on this team is (I’m sure) a galvanizing force to many of these guys. The way he’s chasing and hounding guys on defense is showing the other players the effort level they need to play with in order to compete on this team.

    Ultimately, this team is just a tremendous blend of the right players at the right time, and I’m grateful that I am getting the chance to see them play. And five years down the road, I don’t care what the pundits say (I barely care now, unless it comes from the 4-5 guys I truly respect) because I know what I see and will remember how it happened, as I think most of *us* will.

  19. Welcome back Kurt, great posts about the Olympics. Darius, another great comment about the right thing at the right time.

    It is the team that wins or loses, not the individuals.

  20. Hey guys,

    On HP, they have these new weekly artticles by David Sparks, who calls himself the Arbitrarian, and tries to explain or define basktball by formula after formula. WHile I have a problem with this because, numbers and formulas cannot prove anything when it comes to athletics and sport, he had an especially moronic comment about Kobe’s 81, calling it “underwhelmin” and that Kobe cost the Lakers 12 points. Please check it out and give us your thoughts.

    Needless to say the logical fan I am responded, along with my Laker fan side.

    http://hardwoodparoxysm.blogspot.com/

  21. Just goes to show how decptive statistics can be.

    In Kobe’s 81 point game the Lakers were playing flat with no energy, were losing by double figures, and Kobe singlehandedly inspired his team to an easy victory.

    There is a profound John Wooden saying: “the team that makes the most mistakes will win.” In other words, taking chances and trying to make things happen wins games, playing it safe doesn’t make plays.

    The impact of a great player goes far beyond plus or minus in this or that category. When Kobe is aggressive, he opens up the floor, inspires the crowd (even on the road) and energizes his teamates. (The occasional bad game proves nothing.)

    These things cannot be measured by statistics.

  22. Off-topic, but interesting: http://lakers.freedomblogging.com/2008/08/20/why-not-shaun/

    Interesting article that the Lakers might want to take a look at Shaun Livingston. I live near Peoria, IL, so I remember the hype and craze that this kid had when he came out of high school. If he can strengthen his body (a big if) and stay off the trainer’s table, there’s no doubt in my mind he’ll be one of the top PGs in the league.

    However, I don’t think the Lakers should sign him. He’s a great floor leader and is more at home in an offense centered around the PG. I’m not sure the triangle would best utilize his strengths. He can’t space the floor the way Fish can. And on top of all of this, I just don’t think he can get his body to the point where he can stand up to the rigors of an 82-game season.

  23. Ah, the joy of bored sports bloggers trying to write something interesting in their paper’s Web site during the offseason.

    I think Snoopy gets to the point at the end — some team should give Livingston a chance in camp, but not the Lakers. He is a bad fit in the triangle. Personally, I think we need to see if Farmar this season can prove he is the PG of the future. It’s all in his court.

  24. New post up on Argentina and the semifinals. Plus check out the link at the end comparing Bolt and Magic.

  25. The most amazing thing about the USA team is watching Carmelo Anthony play good defense.In the Laker’s playoff series with Denver he didn’t play a lick of defense.Hope this doesn’t make Denver a better team.

  26. I’ve always been infatuated with size and skill at PG. Growing up with Magic as your idol will do that to you, I guess. So, needless to say, I’d love to have Livingston on any team I rooted for, given that he is healthy enough to contribute.

    But, I think, for us, right now, the timing is bad. We’re loaded at guard, and as Kurt said, we have investments that need time and nurturing for our own evaluation in Farmar (and to a lesser exent Sasha, and an even lesser extent Karl, Sun, Crawford).

    I will disagree though, with the point that Livingston could not fit as a Triangle PG. I say this because there are many different types of players that can play that position and still be effective at it. Ron Harper and D. Fish could not be more different as players, but both have been heavy contributors to championship teams playing that position. When looking at Livingston’s game, he’s an excellent passer, can handle the ball, has the size to defend multiple positions, can play in the post, finish on drives and by catching off cuts near the hoop, and overall, just has a great feel for offensive basketball. Now is he a *space the floor* PG that plays well off the ball? No. But he can play the role that Harper played for the Bulls and Lakers, I’m sure. The beauty of the Triangle is that if you know *how* to play, you can fit in. The offense is versatile enough to take a player’s skill set and maximize it within the offense and allow him to be successful in that role. Like I said earlier, if we had the roster space, and didn’t have so much time (with Farmar) and now money (with Sasha) invested in other players, I’d take a flier on Livingston in a second. I’d almost still do it, but as I mentioned before, it’s probably bad timing. I love the potential of his talent…