Up until yesterday's rematch against Greece, the USA Men's Basketball had yet to prove to the themselves against prime competition nor were any of the games all that exciting. These contests were a mere formality from both our perspective as viewers and undoubtedly in the minds of the players. Greece isn't necessarily the best team in the tournament; Spain is widely considered the States' top competitor. This was the first real test for this team and I think we have a better idea where they stand against the top European players after the 92-69 win over Greece.
There were things I was looking for in comparison to the 2006 World Championships semi-finals. We all know what happened two years ago when the Greeks made an art of the pick-and-roll on its way to the 101-95 upset. Two of the most prominent terms used when analyzing the team's disappointing performance were "cohesion" and "half-court set". While I do think this team does play as more of a unit than the previous edition, having a matured Chris Paul and, in my opinion, the second best point guard in the NBA in Deron Williams is far more important. Kirch Hinrich was not going to cut it against the European elite and I'm glad Coach K realized that. Having two point guards in their prime distributing the ball to the top scorers in the world is more important than the team playing together a lot. I'm not dismissing the need for cohesion but the difference in point guard play is something that shouldn't be taken for granted.
I liked what I saw yesterday from the offense when it wasn't on a fast-break. I've been wondering all summer how it would perform when it wasn't in a run-and-gun atmosphere. They had their breakaway dunks for sure, but there was definitely energy in the half-court set. Chris Bosh was spectacular on both the offensive and defensive end. He and a healthy Jermaine O'Neal could be a devastating combo in the East. Earlier in these games, he was settling for 10-15 foot jumpers but he undressed the Greek big men under the boards with sheer strength and agility. He has been a much bigger factor than Dwight Howard in these Olympics. I've already talked about how much I love watching D-Wade play and how happy I am that he's healthy again. It needs to be repeated; he has been busting through all types of defenses and has proven he cannot be guarded with a single player.
Of course, none of this could be accomplished without a stout, aggressive defense. With Wade and Kobe taking advantage of the undersized Greek guards, the U.S. perimeter defense was overbearing. The first few minutes of the game concerned me a bit in that Greece seemed to be controlling the tempo of the game and the U.S. was frustrated with some of the tacky fouls being called. By the time the second quarter rolled around, the U.S. had built a slim lead with a few fast-break dunks but Greece could get to the basket almost at will. Once they buckled down and played great man-to-man defense, you could see despair setting in on the faces of the Greeks.
Tomorrow morning's game against Spain could very well be a preview to the gold medal game and, to this point, the most anticipated game in the history of USA basketball. I fully expect the U.S. to win this game handily, especially after seeing the Celtics reduce Pau Gasol to a jump shooter in the finals. I'm not falling into the "USA Will Dominate Every Game" category. I just think this team turned that proverbial corner in the second quarter against Greece defensively and will not be intimidated by the Gasol brothers or any of Spain's quick guards. This game stays close in the first half but the U.S. pulls away after the intermission.