In a game where the Dominican Republic's biggest star sat on the bench, Team USA was able to waltz to another easy victory. The Dominicans kept things testy though, staying within the teens until a late third quarter run by the USA sealed the deal.
What was interesting about this game? Well, the Dominican Republic pounded the post early. They had a moderate amount of success, but once things got to be too predictable, they shifted to allowing their bigs to stretch the floor, running out on fast breaks, and setting up their guards for threes. The Dominicans didn't really have any trouble hitting shots at their normal clip until the third quarter, though bad turnovers were constantly putting them behind the 8 ball.
After the game, I got a chance to ask Dominican coach Orlando Antigua whether the early focus on the inside was a part of his strategy. He denied as such, explaining that they were simply trying to take good shots on every possession. He also explained that they were trying to move the ball from one side to the other, and make Team USA play both sides of the court. Antigua's strategy there did see some effectiveness, as Team USA frequently overcommits on the strong side.
Still, the Dominicans outright admitted that they weren't really expecting to win the game. "We didn't want to look at the score", said Dominican point guard Edgar Sosa. "Just continue to get better as a team, continue to work on the things we work on as a team." In this respect, the Dominicans did see their fair share of success. Edward Santana hadn't played a single game up until today, yet managed to post a respectable 11 points. Meanwhile, guard Victor Liz was extremely effective on the dribble drive, and posted his first truly offensively efficient game of the tournament. The team may have lost by 35 points, but they still managed to shoot 39% from the floor and from three. That's a tournament high against Team USA.
On Team USA's side of things, it was a pretty typical affair. They started off a bit sluggish, missing three layups and five free throws in the first quarter. But things eventually looked up in the second quarter, when Team USA was able to get a bunch of live ball turnovers and slowly build a lead. A four point burst by Rudy Gay at the end of the half put the US up by 15, and a post-centric run in the third essentially put things away for the red white and blue.
Again, you have to credit Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried for the way they played. Their aggressive attacks on the rim and active hands on defense were extremely invaluable, and basically allowed Team USA to coast during the fourth quarter. They also did a good job of shutting down the Dominicans attempts at re-establishing a post game in the third, when they had the unorthodox strategy of playing three bigs at once. The Dominicans abandoned that plan about two plays in.
It's been interesting to see how Faried has become such a essential part of this team, after many expected the big men to be a weakness. I asked Coach K after the game whether Faried's role had changed at all since they arrived in Bilbao.
"No, I think his role's pretty much stayed the same. He played this way in practice. He's very unique. Gives us extra possessions. I think he's shooting 80% from the floor. He's an easy guy to play with. He gives us a lot of minutes. And when Rudy came in and did that, which he has for a couple of games, he didn't last time. But then you have a different guy in there. Kind of like when DeMarcus comes in for Anthony. It's a little bit different look, but a good look when these guys are playing as well as they can."
On the guard front, James Harden has continued to prove himself as a scorer. He's really good at generating point on the break and in isolation situations, and I can't remember a play he made that I didn't like. His defensive concentration still needs work, especially when he's playing such quick shooters, but he's still been a key cog for this team. DeMar DeRozan was outright amazing in his few minutes, showing a level of athleticism that I don't think the Dominican players would ever be able to deal with.
Derrick Rose and Stephen Curry continue to somewhat struggle from the floor, as both shot right around the 40% mark tonight. The difference tonight was their court vision. They combined for 9 assists and only 2 turnovers, which has to be the best ratio they've posted so far. It's a little bit easier to get the Dominican defense to commit, but as long as they continue to make the extra pass, they shouldn't have any problem finding ways to contribute.
Anyway, that's all I've got. This win guarantees Team USA first place in Group A, and their last matchup is with Mike Fratello and Ukraine tomorrow. Onward!
- Edgar Sosa, on whether he felt jitters playing Team USA: "As a basketball player, you get jitters before you play anybody. ... But once the ball tips off, you just go out there and play basketball."
- Coach K said that his team had pretty much adjusted to the international rule set, but said that they would never fully adjust to the travel. "It's just the way it's interpreted, especially in fast break opportunities."
- Coach K has done nothing but praise Derrick Rose in the press conferences over the past couple of games. Tonight, Coach K was particularly impressed with his defensive pressure.
- DeMarcus Cousins isn't happy with how sluggish the team is starting, and wants to get out of the habit. He also emphasized a return to greater ball pressure, like the way they had played in earlier games.
- Team USA still struggles dealing with weak-side cutters in the post. The blocks are worth it, but I could see a more clever team making us look foolish.
- By the same token, I think that bigs stretching the floor is going to be another problem. I'm really glad Dirk Nowitzki is nowhere to be found.
- Nevertheless, I think Rudy Gay's ability to score in the post against undersized power forwards will be super valuable moving forward.
The Dominicans' slow march to the outside:
- The Dominicans were able to go on a run in the fourth, but it wasn't that big of a deal. Team USA just got a bit sloppy, and there weren't any real philosophical errors to be had.
Next Game: Versus Ukraine, Thursday, September 4th, 10:30 AM Central Daylight Time.