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Team USA finishes perfectly against Ukraine, 95-71

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A couple of separate runs by James Harden and a paint attack in the fourth quarter easily sealed the deal tonight. But Coach Fratello may know a thing or two about how well Team USA will fare moving forward....

SO MUCH EXTREME IS OCCURRING IN THIS PHOTO!!!!
SO MUCH EXTREME IS OCCURRING IN THIS PHOTO!!!!
FIBA.com

Box Score

In what could arguably be called the second closest call this iteration of Team USA has ever faced, Ukraine had them to within 17 during the earlier stages of the fourth quarter. But a tired core of guards continued to cough up more and more turnovers, eventually leading Ukraine to ruin. Still, Ukraine had an unusually efficient night on the offensive side of the ball. Despite 19 total turnovers, they managed to shoot 40% from the floor and get to the line 19 times.

The Dominican Republic is arguably the only other team who's shot well against Team USA overall. When I asked their coach about his strategy against Team USA last night, one of the things he mentioned was moving the ball from one side of the floor to another. I asked Ukraine's coach, Mike Fratello, whether that was a key part of his strategy.

"You're not going to beat the USA moving the ball on one side of the floor. You have to move the basketball. You have to move their people.

Unfortunately for their opponents, they have one of the best, if not the best defensive coaches in the NBA as an assistant coach on their team. So, Derrick Rose has played for Tom, and he's really nasty defensively. The rest of the players, I'm sure they understand what Coach Thibodeau would like them to do. And they have Mike Kyrzyzweski, he's a hall of famer. Jim Boehim's a hall of famer. And they have Monty Williams and Tom Thibodeau, who could be hall of famers someday. They've done a good job with their team.

So if you don't move bodies, and you don't move people, you're in trouble against them. They wanna keep you on one side of the floor and lock you in defensively."

Throughout the first half, it's arguable that Ukraine did a good job avoiding the American steal machines. At the half, the team had only given up 3 points via live ball turnovers, and were having a fair amount of success pounding the paint. Jeter and Mishula were definitely firing up and missing a ton of long-range jumpers, but Ukraine had tied Team USA in the rebounding category, basically evening things out.

Meanwhile, Team USA's offense was up and down. They settled for a lot of perimeter shots early in the game and early in the shot clock. They were also having trouble establishing any kind of post presence, as the ball didn't move between players very much and Ukraine's size served them well. Eventually though, things opened up. Team USA's second unit moved the ball a lot more once they checked in, and the first unit followed suit once they entered in the 2nd quarter. Mostly though, you have to credit the amazing iso skills of James Harden, and the incredible shooting ability of Stephen Curry. They would single handedly lead Team USA on a 12-4 run that put them in easy command.

The second half saw Team USA pound the paint offensively. In the first half, they had taken 18 shots outside the paint and 17 within the paint. In the second half, they took a honking 26 shots inside the paint and only 10 outside it. Part of this had to do with the higher amount of live-ball turnovers in the second half due to the fatigue of Ukraine's guards. Still, I had to ask Coach K after the game whether the change in focus was intentional or not.

"You know, we've been trying to get more balance. This team is pretty balanced. We haven't really shot the threes as much as our previous three teams. And it just worked out that way. I think part of it is once we started hitting a couple of threes, the inside opened up and our guys were very unselfish. We had 25 assists, and 10 turnovers. So that's what we saw of that. And we got stuff in the paint.

The other thing- points in the paint are also fast breaks. So you get a few steals, and those are pretty high percentage points. We have good balance when we score 14 points in the first quarter and ended up with 95 for the game. So we started playing a lot better with a 30 point quarter in the second quarter after that slow start."

Speaking of great performances, I'm not done talking about James Harden. During a ~5 minute stretch of the third,  he scored 10 points, dished 3 assists, and grabbed one offensive board. That's nothing to sneeze at, and pretty much solidifes his value as the best isolation scorer the team has. That's not to say the offense wasn't moving, though, as Team USA got basically whatever shot they wanted in the paint. It was pretty refreshing to see, especially after a myriad of failed post ups.

For every story of success, there is a story of struggle. And Team USA's story of struggle has belonged to Derrick Rose. He shot an ice cold 2-9 from the floor tonight, including 7 shots in the paint. This brings him to 25% from the floor over the course of the past 5 games, a whole 13 percentage points below the next worst shooting player (Curry). Of course, stats can be wonky given a small sample size, and we've far from written the book on Derrick Rose. But if his early signs are any indication, he's having some trouble getting his rhythm back.

This is somewhat troublesome news in light of the fact that a lot of international teams like to go under ball screens. It would be invaluable to have Rose regularly hit that off-the-dribble three early in the shot clock, but for now I'm suspecting most of those shots will be left to Irving, Curry, and Harden.

Slammin' Notes:

  • Kyrie Irving had to leave the floor after taking a fall late in the fourth quarter. He needed assistance walking to the locker room, but....
  • Coach K, on Irving's injury: "Kyrie just landed on his tailbone, and we think he'll be fine. We don't anticipate a serious injury."
  • Coach Fratello partially attributed his team's second half breakdown to the mixing and matching of young and old guys in his lineup, throwing off the team's balance.
  • Coach Fratello on Spain's ability to beat the USA: "Spain passes well, they're skilled. To beat the US, you have to be skilled. ... Pass and catch, the small things."
  • Apparently, Ukraine was one point away from moving on to the next round. FIBA, where random blowout against Team USA MATTER! Still, a win against New Zealand last night would have sealed it for them, so there's that.
  • Stephen Curry admits that the offense wasn't in sync early on, but praised the team's defense and said that the energy and intensity were there.
  • This is how ridiculous Team USA's shot chart got in the fourth:
  • Usapaint_medium
  • Team USA continues to get great production out of their bigs, and the bigs continue to do a great job of establishing early post position. When it only takes 1-2 passes to get the ball that low, good things usually happen.
  • Team USA didn't ICE the pick and roll a lot, and gave up a few easy baskets in the paint. I think it's a tactic meant to discourage other teams from stretching the floor with their bigs.
  • Kenneth Faried was the most adored player by the combined Finnish/Spanish crowd. Loud applause throughout the tournament, and always got the biggest ovation.
  • By the way, there are very few American fans here. Hoping that will change in Barcelona.
  • Coach K, on whether he had bitten into his 2012 gold medal: ""My mother told me not to bite hard things that you couldn't chew on. I've always listened to my mother, god bless her."
Next Game: Versus Mexico, Saturday, September 6th, Time to be Announced.

Stay tuned to WTLC for a full Round of 16 breakdown and an extended preview of the Team USA-Mexico game!