LeBron stole the show tonight, scoring a game high 30 points and wowing the crowd with highlight reel dunks.
Tonight was fun to watch, if nothing else. Brazil made a huge run for the money in the first half, downing Team USA by as many as 10 points. But Team USA eventually showed their athleticism, grabbing tons of steals in the back court and scoring on the break. Brazil consistently threatened to come back, but Team USA finally got some of their jumpshots to go, exploited their mismatches well, and got a lock down on the paint. By the final minute, Team USA basically cruised to the finish, going to a record of 2-0 in this year's friendlies.
But you really have to respect the way Brazil played. This could have easily been a 20 or 30 point blowout, but they played with just as much ferocity when they were down double-digits, and they did a great job of playing damage control when they were losing their lead quickly.
Team USA's strategy going into this game seemed to be, "Exploit the mismatches at all costs." This mostly meant shooting whenever they got a slower opponent on the perimeter, and driving the ball into the lane to try to out-muscle Brazil in the paint. But the execution just wasn't there. It was brick city from beyond the arc, as Team USA was 1 of 12 in the first half. They missed a couple of open layups, one of them notably coming for Russell Westbrook in the open court.
Meanwhile, Brazil was playing the crafty offense they're known for. They managed to get the ball to Nene right next to the basket, where he could power his way to points. Anderson Varejao hit a couple of jumpers. Tiago Splitter made a few gamey moves in the post. Alex Garcia got a couple of open threes in the pocket. Leandro Barbosa worked the fast break. But, most importantly of all, Marcelinho Huertas was there, at the center of it all, orchestrating a magnificent looking symphony.
Unfortunately for him, the symphony was about to be drowned out by the blaring rock music of Team USA. After the initial failure of their traditional lineup, Team USA went with a smaller lineup (that included Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook). The lineup pressured in the back court like crazy, hardly allowing Brazil to advance beyond the half court line. If the ball wasn't stolen by the much quicker Team USA players in the back court, it was knocked away when Brazil tried to make an unnecessarily crafty pass into the post.
When all was said and done at the end of the first half, Team USA had stormed back to a 5 point lead, and had no intention of letting up. Brazil had committed 12 turnovers in the first half, and Team USA had shot just 39% from the field despite scoring 26 points in the paint. But Brazil wasn't done yet, opening the second half with a score and staying with Team USA for the rest of the game. However, they didn't have much success when they tried to make headway, for even when Team USA was settling for too many jump shots, a few of them actually went down, effectively nixing most runs.
Below: The Rest of the Second Half, Analysis, Moving Forward!
Team USA also did a better job of running the break generally. The Brazilian players generally couldn't get up the floor fast enough, and would sometimes waste great opportunities with an errant three or a badly shot layup. Team USA was obviously more athletic, so they could get an easy slam during the break whenever they wanted. But sometimes they'd show off and commit a stupid turnover. It was just an exhibition game though, so I'm not reading too much into it.
By the end of the game, Team USA's traditional lineup was playing better overall, with Tyson Chandler learning the tricks of Brazil's offense and closing down the paint effectively. Team USA's ball movement was also a lot better, with guys like LeBron able to get to the mid-range spots they need to score consistently and effectively.
Brazil got within 6 with four minutes to go, and was within 10 with about two minutes to go. They did have a few legitimate chances at victory, but they allowed the ball to be stolen by LeBron James off of a rebound, and they fumbled a pass in the paint that would have gotten them within 7 a bit later.
Durant, Westbrook, and Harden didn't factor too much into today's Team USA win, other than when concerning the fantastic second quarter run. James, Bryant, and Anthony seemed to dominate the ball on offense instead, preferring to run isolation sets for themselves and will their way to points. James led all scorers with 30 points, and Alex Garcia led the Brazilians with 14 points. Anderson Varejao had a double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds.
Moving forward, Team USA might expect some problems from teams with more legitimate post presences (Spain and Russia), but they showed a variety of ways they can get past it tonight. First of all, Tyson Chandler will factor into their defense, and he's no slouch. Second of all, they have the quickest team in international basketball, allowing them to poke for steals and run the floor in order to fuel their offense when the jumpers aren't falling. Third of all, they can rely on getting fouled and going to the line for a good number of their points. The biggest problem will be rebounding, which was the source for Brazil's third and fourth quarter mini-runs. Since Brazil isn't the greatest rebounding team in the world, it's probably something Team USA will struggle with against other international sides. Is it big enough of a problem to get them a loss? That's yet to be determined.
Next Game: Versus Great Britain at Manchester Arena in England, United Kingdom. Thursday, July 19th, 1:10 PM Central Standard Time, ESPN2.