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USA 70 - Brazil 68

LAS VEGAS - JULY 24:  Chauncey Billups #4 of the 2010 USA Basketball Men's National Team goes in for a layup during a USA Basketball showcase at the Thomas & Mack Center on July 24 2010 in Las Vegas Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS - JULY 24: Chauncey Billups #4 of the 2010 USA Basketball Men's National Team goes in for a layup during a USA Basketball showcase at the Thomas & Mack Center on July 24 2010 in Las Vegas Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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I was going to say something about dodging a bullet in this game, but of course it's only group play, so it hardly matters whether the US had won or not.  If the only acceptable outcome is the Gold medal, then it doesn't much matter whether you finish first in your group or fourth - you still have to beat good teams in the knockout round.  If, as I heard Tony Kornheiser say on PTI today, this team is bound to lose at least one game at some point, then today's win is almost bad news.  There's no way they lose to Iran or Tunisia, so that means if one loss is inevitable, it's waiting for them in single elimination, and they won't win the Gold.  I don't happen to believe that a loss is inevitable, but from this point forward the only option is to go undefeated.

Today's game exposed the limitations of this Team USA.  The youth was evident in the 22 turnovers (that's a boatload in a 40 minute game).  The lack of cohesion was evident on pick and roll defense (Dragic and Slovenia found some seams Sunday, but Marcelinho picked them apart in the first half of this one). The lack of a halfcourt offense was evident in the low point total (only 27 in the second half).  We've said it all along - against an opponent that handles the pressure defense and doesn't turn the ball over, when the US is unable to get easy baskets in transition, they're going to struggle.  Well, guess what?  They struggled.

And for all the talk of the depth of Team USA, when it got right down to it in a tight game, Krzyzewski played Kevin Durant basically the entire game, and went with Billups the entire second half.  Is it perhaps a bit strange that coach K felt compelled to ride his starters so much in an opening round game?  Perhaps.  But it's pretty evident that when forced to play a half court game, it's coming down to Durant or Rose or Billups creating something in an iso.  That's it.  That's the offense.  In addition to the starters playing significantly more minutes, the bench was ineffective when it was in.  Collectively the reserves made only a single field goal (a Kevin Love three of all things) and scored 6 points.

(Speaking of playing time, there may be a tendency in Clips Nation to feel badly about Eric Gordon's 5 minutes today.  Don't.  I have no problem with him playing behind Westbrook right now, especially in a game where Brazil was playing man-to-man the whole way.  As of now, I assume Gordon would be the first guard off the bench against zones, but Westbrook has looked great as well so he deserves minutes.  There was a time when Gordon wasn't considered a possiblity for the team, and then he was penciled in as maybe a 12th man.  He's in the top 9, even today, and he'll get his chances, so it's OK.)

Does today's result mean that Team USA is in trouble, when Brazil had free throws to tie the game in the final seconds, even though they were playing without Nene or Anderson Varejao?  I don't really think it told us much that we didn't already know.  It was an unusual game and I wouldn't want to use it to forecast the future.  Brazil's halftime lead was mostly the byproduct of ridiculously hot shooting, including 7 for 11 on three pointers (many of them contested).  Ironically, some equally cold second half shooting ended up costing the South Americans the game.  If they make even a reasonable percentage in the second half, they win handily. 

You have to give Team USA credit for making some defensive adjustments at halftime.  They went with the hard show on the pick and roll after intermission, which frequently turned into a trap on the ball handler.  The rotations from the other three players weren't always perfect, but the approach clearly worked better than having the big float under the screen as they were doing in the first half.  If these games are on the job training for Team USA, today was very important.  Neither Iran nor Tunisia have the talent to provide meaningful work to the team.  That means that any more learning experiences are coming when a loss means a trip home.  Against Germany or a similar team in the first game of the knockout stage, they can survive a bad game.  From the final 8 on, there's no more learning on the job - they have to do the job at that point.