And it has finally begun! After some clear procrastination on my part, the FIBA World Championship has started, and in the United States, it has started off with a whimper. Instead of being able to watch any of the games live on NBATV or ESPN, all of the games were broadcast exclusively on ESPN 3 while ABC, ESPN, ESPN 2, and NBATV all broadcast things like Little League Baseball, NASCAR Nationwide Racing, and NBA Finals re-runs. Two games were eventiually aired late at night, about 10 hours later. Great job, ESPN.
The first quarter was a bit of a struggle though, and a good example of what Team USA should not do in an international game. There were way too many lazy passes, bad dribbles, and stupid lobs going on. In addition, Team USA played man-to-man, leaving the paint wide-open for Croatian drives and layups. This only stopped after they put in Tyson Chandler and started playing a zone. Fortunately for the US, Croatia's defense was terrible, allowing Team USA to score well in the paint and get to the line.
But in the 2nd Quarter, things started to separate. Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant both contributed to a 16 Point Run by Team USA to start off the 2nd Quarter. Needless to say, it was never much of a game after that, with Croatia only scoring 6 points in the entire quarter.
Everyone got nearly equal playing time on Team USA, but I'd have to give the MVP to Lamar Odom, who put in nearly all of his points and minutes keeping up with the Croatians in the first. But all in all, it was a real team effort. There was no one standout performance, and when the big guns (Durant and Rose) came out in the second, the game was all but over by the second quarter, and everybody left the court well-rested. Mission Accomplished.
Kevin Durant had 14 Points on 5 of 11 Shooting, with 8 Rebounds and 3 Assists. Russell Westbrook had 10 Points on 4 of 4 Shooting, 3 Rebounds, and 4 Assists.
Below: Krstic's Serbia, Pleiss's Germany, and 3 Other Interesting Games!
Nenad Krstic was suspended for today because of his fighting in a warm-up game against Greece, but his team seemed to do perfectly well without him, destroying Angola 94 to 44 without Krstic and Teodosic, their two leading scorers. The question is, was this because Angola sucks, or because Serbia is really that good? The answer is that it's neither. It's simply that Serbia's style of play is pretty much the antidote for Angola's style of play. While Angola has no player over 6'8" and shoots lots of threes, Serbia has some tall stiffs who can shoot. Because Serbia's big men can hang out on the perimeter and shoot, Angola can't create mismatches or try to intercept the ball before it gets to the post. Plus, on the defensive end, they'll get virtually no rebounds. So, in the end, I'd say that this game proves nothing. I'd wait to see how these teams do against others in Group A before I judge them.
While Germany did lose to Argentina 78-74, it was a much better than expected result for the ailing Deutcher Basketball Bund. Even though Dirk Nowitski and Chris Kaman elected not to play for the team, they found an excellent replacement in the Thunder's own Tibor Pleiss. Pleiss had 12 Points and 3 Rebounds in the loss. But, even though Germany did have an excellent team effort (7 players had 6 points or more), they just couldn't compete with the star power of Argentina, as Carlos Delfino tore through the German defense with 27 Points and 8 Rebounds, while Luis Scola had 20 Points and 4 Rebounds. It just goes to show that there's no replacement for having a go-to man on offense. Germany's leading scorer was the American Demond Greene, with 20.
3 Other Interesting Results:
I cheated and put two here because I think they're both important. Greece defeated China, albeit narrowly, despite the suspension of Antonis Fotsis and Soforkis Schortanitis. Meanwhile, Russia made a minor upset of Puerto Rico, whom some considered to be the strongest competitor coming out of the Americas.
Jordan, first timers in the FIBA World Championship and the epitome of what an underdog is, almost managed to defeat Australia, a longtime stalwart of International Basketball. Unfortunately, the game wasn't decided by anything as epic as a final shot. Rather, it was decided by poor defense on Jordan's part as they gave up a 75-70 lead with only 1:14 to go. Australia got back via a shot in the paint and 4 free throws, the last two which were hit by David Andersen. Jordan wouldn't manage to score again, as they missed 3 late layups to end the game. Granted, Australia was without Andrew Bogut, but their 8th man should, by all accounts, be just as good as Zaid Abbas or Rasheim Wright, Jordan's two best players. This game just goes to show that Australian basketball is really in the crapper. They still have a chance to redeem themselves, but not if they continue playing like this. Jordan still has virtually no chance of advancing though. They're a fun underdog team to watch, and I have to give them credit for playing Australia well. But there's no way they'll beat Angola and Germany. Or is there?
After an early Spanish lead in the first and second, France came back from 9 points down in the second to tie the game, sparked by a monster dunk via Nicholas Batum and continued through a couple of deep threes and a nice drive. It was tied at 25 going into the half, but France dug themselves into another 8 point hole midway through the third quarter. But again, they found their way back into the game through forcing some bad Spanish threes and draining one of their own. The fourth quarter was a slow and intense defensive battle, with both teams not scoring for a full two and a half minutes. Late in the 4th, France pulled ahead by 5 on a Batum 3 Pointer, and then were ahead by 9 courtesy of some freethrows, with only 1:43 to go. Eventually, Micakel Gelabale hit a desperation layup, putting France ahead by 11 and putting the game in the books.
Micakel Gelabale led all scorers with 16, and for me, he's easily the MVP of the game. He always hit a shot exactly when France needed it. Batum also scored well with 13. On Spain's side of things, Juan Carlos Navarro and Rudy Fernandez scored well with 17 and 13, respectively.
This was an important and surprising game not only because the reigning FIBA Champions lost to France, but because a fully-stocked Spanish Championship Team lost to a depleted France squad that was missing Tony Parker, Ronny Turiaf, Joakim Noah, and Micakel Pietrus. Essentially, they lost to a couple of developing NBA players (Gelabale and Batum) and Euroleague stars. Boris Diaw hardly played! What was looking like a two team tournament has suddenly been blown wide open. It's now not a question of whether anyone can beat the United States and Spain....it's just a question of whether anyone can beat the United States. Congratulations to Les Bleus!
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