Like most Team USA games so far, this one started out with actual hope for the host country. But, it was the first "away" game Team USA had to play, so I guess that's something different about this win. The whole environment of the game was rather unusual. Despite being held in the historically industrial city of Manchester, home to some of the most ravenous soccer fans in the world, this game felt like a tennis match at Wimbledon. Almost none of the crowd had signs or apparel of either team, and those that did most likely had Team USA jerseys. Nobody cheered at any point in the game, instead giving a loud golf clap whenever Britain was successful, and perhaps a few "oohs" at a LeBron James dunk. At one point, the camera panned to the crowd after a good British play, just to see them sit silently. The camera angle was quickly changed. Completing the eerieness of the game was the PA announcer with a high class British accent saying very Americanized names, like "Carmelo Anthony", "Tyson Chandler", and "Deron Williams".
While I don't want to hate on the British fans (since I was born there, after all), it's hard not to notice that the level of support is nowhere near that of the rest of Europe. Having been to the 2011 Eurobasket, I saw that Team GB probably had the smallest and quietest entourage there, even when compared to distant nations like Montenegro and Macedonia. Basketball is still developing, and while it will draw interest due to its' being played once in a blue moon, it still has a long way to go, especially considering the interest in niche sports like Cricket, Rugby, and Gaelic Sports that already exists in the country.
That being said, Team GB is better then the fans would lead you to believe. While they used to be a total joke internationally, being ranked below basketball deserts like Finland, Portugal, and Kazakhstan, they've recently been able to hold their own in European competition, naturalizing native Sudanese player Luol Deng, adding domestic talent that's had success abroad in Ben Gordon and Pops Mensah-Bonsu, and even getting some talent grown at home, like Trail Blazers Center Joel Freeland, Spanish ACB player Daniel Clark, and domestic veteran Nate Reinking. They've been able to hold their own against Spain, the second best team in the world, and have started to win regularly against the doldrums of European talent.
But with Ben Gordon not playing for the team, it's pretty heavily centered around the NBA trio of Luol Deng, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, and Joel Freeland. They did a good job very early on of running the floor, taking a 2-0 lead. Even after that, Luol Deng straight up beasted his team into the game. He was hitting threes with the defense draped all over him, and making some most moves like nobodies business. But Freeland and Mensah-Bonsu struggled, with nobody to set them up in the post. Oh yeah, and the rest of the team was downright horrible. All I remember them doing was hitting wide open threes and losing the ball.
Below: What Team USA Did, Great Highlights, Individual Performances, Next Game!
On the Team USA front, this game was theirs for the taking. They struggled with some execution early on, as Durant clanked an open dunk and then, right afterwards, missed an open layup right next to the rim. They were pulling up for a few too many jumpshots, and letting Team GB get to the spots they needed on the floor. But there was never a semblence of them not being in control, as they pressured the heck out of the British back court, and got a good number of steals for easy baskets.
This was especially true in the third quarter, where Great Britain just looked totally helpless against the onslaught of Team USA's offense. The three point shots finally started falling for Deron Williams and Carmelo Anthony, which, combined with the fast break play, made for a killer 34 point third quarter. In the half-court, Team USA ran the pick and roll against England rather well, getting to the basket and line pretty easily. The game cruised to a finish in the fourth, with Britain basically playing the bottom of their bench and getting free points. They finished the game with a whopping 27 turnovers, which was pretty much the story for them.
For those who were fans of the 1992 Dream Team and like to see highlight reel dunks on unwitting teams, this was the game for you. LeBron James had a particularly gamey play as he threw the ball off the thigh of a British defender on an inbounds pass, ran in-bounds, grabbed the ball, and hit a reverse layup. It was the greatest troll since Chris Paul did this to Anthony Davis.
Not to mention the array of dunks from Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Those guys totally tore it up tonight, scoring nearly all of their points in transition. Westbrook would frequently torture the less athletic and wily British guards in the back court, tipping at least four or five balls, all of which ended up an easy two points on the other end. Durant struggled a little bit, but he had a couple tipped balls of his own, and hit a couple of shots off of assists from Westbrook. Harden was a factor too, scoring a transition bucket, hitting a three, and straight up outmaneuvering a British defender.
Lastly, the play of Anthony Davis was nice to see in garbage time, as he totally nailed three alley-oop dunks right through the center of the British defense. Granted, Team GB's backups aren't much better than the competition he faced in college, but his athleticism was something to witness all on its' own.
Anyway, the win moves Team USA to 3-0 in their preliminary games, and a 52-1 record under Coach K. They'll be in action again on Sunday at 3:30 PM CST in Barcelona, Spain. However, ESPN2 is tape delaying the broadcast until 11 PM CST due to NASCAR and whatever else people do on Sundays. It still should be live on ESPN3, though.
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