After Team USA’s recent win over Brazil, it was hard to remain optimistic about their chances to bring home the gold. The Brazilians were able to expose Team USA during long stretches on both sides of the basketball before dropping a game for the first time in these FIBA World Championships.
Both teams got out to hot starts with Team USA scoring 18 points on 12 possessions in the first 6:40 and Brazil scoring 17 points on 13 possessions in the same time. We expected the US National team to be this efficient on the offensive end with their athleticism, but they’ve been winning their games because of their defensive prowess, and haven’t allowed opposing offenses to be as efficient as the Brazilians were on the whole first quarter and the better part of the second half. The Brazilians – namely Marcelo Huertas – lived in the paint in the first half. Brazil’s first five field goal attempts, all good, were in the paint. Their sixth field goal attempt was a wide-open three pointer after a penetration and kick out. Their next six field goal attempts after the three-pointer were in the paint. Of Brazil’s first 12 field goal attempts, 11 were in the paint, and one made three-pointer because the point guard got in the paint. To end the first quarter, Brazil hit three straight three pointers and Tiago Splitter was found for a wide-open dunk.
Brazil was able to pick Team USA apart for most of the first half, scoring 46 points on 43 possessions, giving them an offensive efficiency rating of 106.97 for the half. Brazil ran a plethora of screen and roll sets and back screens off of the ball, allowing Huertas to run amok the American defense, living in the paint and finishing with six points and five assists in the first half. Huertas’ propensity to get into the paint at will didn’t just propel their offense, but it helped slow down Team USA’s offense. The Brazilians certainly didn’t score on every possession, but a lot of their misses came in the paint, reducing the amount of long rebounds that get Team USA in their coveted transition game. When Brazil did take shots behind the arch, they hit them at a 63 percent clip. Team USA had to play a large portion of the game in the half court.
While Team USA did have some very good stretches of offensive basketball (a 150 Ortg for the starters in the first quarter), they struggled mightily in the second half. Team USA was able to stymie the Brazilian offense by trapping hard on their high screen and roll sets, but weren’t really able to put a good offensive stretch in the second half. Of their 42 second half possessions, 11 ended in turnovers and nine more ended in missed shots around the rim, 20 wasted possessions. Team USA had ball movement problems, recording only eight assists for the game (compared to 15 for Brazil). Kevin Durant was able to score effectively, but the rest of the team struggled for most of the second half – especially the second unit. With at least two reserves on the floor, Team USA had an offensive efficiency rating of 76.92 compared to an offensive efficiency rating of 100 when at least four starters were on the floor (these number aren’t counting an absolutely awful fourth quarter for both teams, which forced me to tweet, “4th Q numbers: 18 pts, 9TOs, 9 missed layups/tips, 10 missed 3s and 10 minutes of Lamar Odom looking lost” – and yes, those were the numbers for both teams combined).
What the Brazil game taught us is that Team USA can be beat by their opponent repeatedly getting into the lane, limiting their time in transition, and shooting a high clip from behind the arch. Brazil played Team USA perfectly in the first half, and went into the break with a 46-43 lead. And as bad as they played in the second half, they were able to turn Team USA over enough to finish the game only one possession away from a victory. The US National team is going to have to move the ball much better than they did against Brazil. There were too many possessions where shots were taken off of one or fewer passes. Also, Team USA’s second unit leaves much to be desired. Russell Westbrook has had shaky confidence entering games, and has had to gain that confidence as the game progressed. Turnover problems start with the point guard, and if Westbrook can’t hold onto the ball, it’s going to continue to be rough for Team USA to keep their play consistent for 40 minutes – which they’re going to need to do when the Worlds begin the elimination rounds. Team USA has today off, but plays again Wednesday against Iran.