Unlike Turkey on the previous day, New Zealand didn't have great ambitions for the outcome of this game. Down 0-2 and needing two victories in the next three games to advance, the Tall Blacks decided to look beyond their matchup with Team USA. Given that the US has been dominant in their two victories so far, it's hard to blame the Kiwis.
"This was a wonderful chance for everybody to play" said guard Kirk Penney after the game. Indeed, Coach Vucnic decided to play all 12 men on the roster, and didn't play any single player over 20 minutes in total. He claimed to plan as such after the game, and both he and Penney both outright admitted that they were focusing on their next two matchups more than anything.
The result was a game that was closer than you might think. Team USA slowly built a lead over the course of the first and second quarters, making the most of live ball turnovers and their superior size. But Team USA had three separate stints of 2 minutes or more with no field goals scored during the second and third quarters. New Zealand was also able to finish the third on a 15-6 run, using their bigs' ability to stretch the floor and exploiting Team USA's tendency to over commit on one side of the paint.
In the post-game presser, Coach K admitted that mistakes were made. "In the second half, we had too many bigs in at one time. I just wanted to get to see that. Of course, this is probably not the type of team to show that against." Still, it's not like Team USA was ever in any danger of losing, or out of control of the game. The closest New Zealand got was 20 points with 9:22 to go in the fourth.
On Team USA's end, you have to again credit the performance of Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis. New Zealand did all they could to keep both of those guys in the high post. Unforunately for the Kiwis, Faried and Davis were so mobile that it didn't matter. New Zealand also definitely struggled to contain them more when Loe was off the floor, because Casey Frank and B.J. Anthony aren't nearly big enough to keep Faried and Davis from establishing position. Faried and Davis would finish the game a combined 14-22 from the floor, scoring mostly on above-the rim dunks and below the rim hustle plays. Neither would record a single turnover, both registered only a single foul, and New Zealand shot a mediocre 16 of 30 in the paint. It wasn't too long ago that bigs were considered to be Team USA's only weakness.....
Also, I'm definitely not trying to discredit the guards. James Harden was extremely useful as a dribble-drive threat, magnetizing contact on the way to the rim and getting the offense moving. I'd even go so far as to argue that he was more useful in getting the defense to move than Irving or Rose. As a whole, the guards did a pretty good job of combatting New Zealand's strategy of pushing the pace. The Kiwis have a pretty deep stock of guards on their team, and weren't afraid to throw long outlet passes or fire up an early three. Team USA took full advantage of the Kiwi's propensity to throw the ball around, scoring 15 points directly off of live ball turnovers.
If there's one thing that Team USA should take away from this game, it's that their team should try to establish an identity no matter who they're facing. Lesser national teams might have decided to focus exclusively on post-ups against New Zealand, or attempted to make a major change in strategy and slow the game down. Team USA did no such thing. They made minor adjustments and got certain players more touches, but they never adjusted anybody's specific role too greatly. I'm sure that a differently tooled Team USA could have beaten New Zealand by 50, but establishing this type of consistency now will certainly pay off against more difficult matchups in the future.
- Coach K was asked about Spain's team after the game. His response? "We're only watching our pool, to be quite frank with you."
- Another interesting tidbit from Coach K was his praise of the defense of Steph Curry and James Harden, specifically against Kirk Penney.
- Kirk Penney: "The real challenge is tomorrow, and that's the mindset we had leaving the gym today."
- Derrick Rose is really struggling. 4-18 from the floor in three complete blowouts, and 7 turnovers to 5 assists. Nevertheless, he did begin the fourth quarter playing with the starters, and Coach K was happy with him after the game.