USA Basketball won its second exhibition game in preparation for the Olympics against Brazil Monday night 80-69.
An 11-point win is fine but it wasn’t a pretty performance by the United States as Brazil revealed some of Team USA’s weaknesses, especially early on as they led 27-17 after the first quarter.
Brazil is a much bigger team than Team USA, sporting three bigs with NBA experience in Anderson Varejao, Nene and Tiago Splitter who helped outrebound the U.S. 38-30 in the game
The United States still won because they turned up the defensive intensity and forced 23 turnovers in the game. After trailing by 10 after one quarter, they allowed just five points in the second and led 37-32 at halftime.
“Our defense was great in the last three quarters, we just weren’t making all of our shots,” Kevin Durant said after the game. “We know we’re going to have some games where we start off slow, but we just have to keep up our defense and be more responsive. We had open shots off of the pick and rolls, we just have to work on making them.”
Offense was a struggle for the U.S. too as they shot just 40.8 percent in the game and went 6-for-24 from beyond the arc. Team USA made up for those numbers with some good hustle work with 12 offensive rebounds and shot 11 more free throws than Brazil.
Brazil didn’t even show their entire hand in this game as so many international teams do leading up to the Olympics. They didn’t play zone at all in the game when that is clearly the most effective way to play defense against the U.S.
LeBron James scored 30 points and far too often found himself single-covered by a Brazil big and took him off the dribble. This wouldn’t have happened in the Olympics.
The lack of size will be a big issue for the U.S. They’re not just going to easily stroll past teams with LeBron and Durant at the four and five no matter how cool those lineups seem. International basketball is too different and not being physical in the paint is something you can rarely afford to be.
It’s still early but head coach Mike Krzyzewski and his affinity for playing a ton of different types of lineups could cost the U.S. as well. Maybe he’s just trying things out now but he has a history of playing questionable lineups with Team USA.
“It’s great,” Russell Westbrook, who scored four points vs. Brazil, said of Team USA’s versatility. “That’s why they put this group of guys together. There are talented guys on this team that are capable of doing a lot of different things. On any given night one guy could score 30 or a lot of guys could score 10 or 12.”
The United States needs to lock down a rotation before the Olympics start though. It’s great that they are deep and have 12 players that can contribute but in a 40-minute game that can be too much and a more concise rotation would be better.
We saw Coach K kind of do this against Brazil playing nine players most of the minutes with Kevin Love and James Harden barely playing and Anthony Davis not at all.
“We have just been sticking with it,” Harden said. “Obviously, our shots didn’t fall in this particular game but fortunately we still able to win. We held them to five points in the second quarter which was good. Our chemistry continues to build with every game we play together.”
Fortunately for the United States they drew the easier group in London. Spain and Brazil, the two teams with the most size, will not play the U.S. until a potential Gold Medal game.
“Right now we’re just trying to focus on us and getting better,” Durant said. “When we start in London, then we will start focusing on how to beat those teams. We know it’s going to be tough but right now we just have to focus on us.”
Until then, the U.S. will continue with its preparation for the Olympics playing their third exhibition against Great Britain July 19 at 7:10 p.m. EST on ESPN2.