You had to figure that last night’s result of the exhibition game between the USA and Dominican Republic wasn’t going to be pretty. It was clear from the beginning, no matter what players the USA is missing due to injury or other reasons, that this team is a force to be reckoned with. The Dominican Republic found that out first hand.Right from the opening tip the USA applied full-court defensive pressure and kept their foot down until the final buzzer. Despite it being an exhibition game, Team USA showed why they are the odds-on favorite to win the gold medal at the 2012 London Games. While a big deal has been made about their lack of size in the post, this team has some of the best defenders in the world.
And they certainly showcased their ability to defend last night. They held DR to 59 points, forcing them into 25 turnovers and holding them to 31.7% shooting from the field. At times, the pressure was so great that DR had trouble in-bounding the basketball. Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook pressured Francisco Garcia and Jack Martinez to the point of frustration.
The Team USA starters — Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Tyson Chandler, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul — played less than 20 minutes in last night’s game, giving way to the “younger” players. Kevin Durant led the way with 24 points on 9-11 shooting and 10 rebounds. Andre Igoudala and Kevin Love were the other bench players to score in double-figures (18) and (11), respectively, Williams had 10 assists off the bench in his 22 minutes of action and Westbrook was bodying the opposing point guard(s) up, taking the ball away from them and diving on the floor for loose balls. Even teenager Anthony Davis got into the act, scoring nine points in nine minutes.
International rules favor Team USA tremendously. For one, the three-point line is closer; on an NBA court the three-point line is 23 feet 9 inches from straight-on and 22 feet from the corners. FIBA rules have the three-point line set at 20 feet 6.1 inches and it’s the same distance around the entire arc. If you watched the game last night, you saw Durant have zero problems connecting from three-point land.
Secondly, the game is more physical. So if the USA wants to pressure opposing point guards, they will have more success stealing the ball because a foul won’t be called if isn’t obvious. FIBA referees “let you play” a lot more than NBA officials, even though I saw a few NBA officials officiating last night’s game.
Finally, on the defensive side the USA will benefit from no “3-second rule” and no goal-tending once the ball hits the rim. I think the “no goal-tending once the ball hits the rim” rule will benefit Team USA more because of all the athletes they have.
Let it be clear: Last night’s game didn’t count. They demolished a lesser-talented team in a meaningless game. But you if learned anything from last night you would know that these players enjoy playing with one another and they are on a mission once they get to London.
They took one step in the right direction last night. And that’s all you should take away from that game.