It's a good win for Team USA against a good team in their building. There's no denying that. The last few minutes were pretty dicey, highlighted by a couple of things we thought might be weaknesses in the Team:
- suspect outside shooting - Andre Iguodala missed an ill-advised three about 2 feet wide left, and Lamar Odom airballed his own three a few minutes later and
- poor pick and roll defense - on three straight possessions during which Spain went from down four to up two, they got two wide open 12 footers as the guard got hung up on the screen while the big was no where to be found for the help, followed by a layup to the roll man.
That bad news was offset by some good news in the final minute. Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose game through in the clutch with some crucial buckets, and Team USA played a stifling zone on the last possession up by one, which surprised Spain. Durant blocked not one but two jump shots to preserve the win.
Of course, it's a meaningless game, and looking at the minutes played, you'd have to assume that Team USA was the one going all out to win: Durant played 37 minutes while no one for Spain played more than 29. It could be a very different story if these teams meet in the medal round. Still, as a confidence builder in a hostile environment, this was a very good thing for Team USA.
By the way, yesterday I said that we could expect about two extra travels called against Team USA because of the way FIBA calls steps before you begin your dribble. Well, based on this game, two was not nearly enough. There were at least five called against the US, and maybe more. Speaking of differences in the rules, kudos to Tyson Chandler for being perhaps the first American in history to actually knock a ball off the rim, taking advantage of that rule difference.
I caught some of the live broadcast on NBA-TV, but didn't get to watch the entire thing until the replay on ESPN. It's really interesting how different announcers have different perspectives. Late in the third quarter, Stephen Curry made a nice crossover and floater in the lane, followed by a steal where he picked Ricky Rubio clean and went in for the layup. The NBA TV announcers (Steve Smith and some other guy) said they felt like he probably secured his place on the team with those two plays and that Eric Gordon would be the final cut. Now, let's ignore for a second what a ludicrous statement that is. You have a multi week try out pocess, and two plays are supposedly going to be the ultimate determination for final cut. Right. Let's also ignore that the NEXT two plays were a turnover by Curry and an ill-advised and forced three pointer that he missed badly. The point is, these guys had clearly already decided that Eric Gordon should be the final cut and what they saw seemed to justify their preconception.
Gordon only played about 6 minutes in this one (the box score says he played 2:10, but it's wrong - his second quarter appearance was 2:10, but he also played close to 4 minutes at the end of the first quarter which the box score seems to have missed). It was not a great performance for EJ - he missed his only shot, dribbled the ball off his foot once, and also got a second turnover hung on him, though I didn't notice him turning it over a second time. But he wasn't particularly bad either. He played good defense as usual.
The last cut is not obvious to me. Russell Westbrook has looked great the last two games. Rajon Rondo did not play today, and there was some confusion as to whether that was related to a sinus infection or not. Meanwhile, neither Kevin Love nor Danny Granger played a second in this game, nor were they really in the rotation against Lithuania. It's been assumed that the final cut would be a guard as it's hard to imagine keeping six players 6'3" and under on a twelve man roster. But it's becoming more and more obvious that given his preference, Coach K will not play many bigs, and will instead go small at every opportunity. Indeed, most of Gordon's minutes in this game were ostensibly at small forward, as he shared the floor with two other guards. So, would they cut Granger, who has only played 10:37 in two games in Madrid? Or does he need to keep both Granger and Love as insurance against injuries and/or foul trouble?
The "last man out" situation, which most writers tried to simplify down to "Gordon or Curry" originally, is now more complex than ever. Is Rondo OK? Is Curry OK? Do you really need Rondo and Westbrook? Can you afford to cut another big like Granger? As well as Westbrook has played in Madrid, I'll go back to what I said about Curry above. You have to look at the big picture, and not be overly influenced by recent results. If Rondo is OK, Rondo and Westbrook still appear to me to be redundant, and Westbrook would be my final cut. I have to say, he's impressed me more and more, and he's a special talent. But I think he is the most expendable of the remaining players.
That's just me. We'll have to wait until Thursday (when the final roster for the tournament is due) to find out. I'll tell you this - I'm far from convinced that EJ's spot is safe. Not because he's played poorly, but because the other guards are all pretty darn good too. But I do presonally feel like EJ brings some size and strength that the others do not, and that he should be kept for that reason. The last cut will be after USA-Greece, where we'll see what Coach K's rotation looks like against a BIG team. If he leaves Granger and/or Love at the end of the bench against Team Hellas, it might be an indication that he is willing to cut one of them and take his chances with small ball. If you don't go big against Greece, there's no one to go big against.