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The group stage of the Olympic basketball tournament is over and as expected, Team USA went through with 5 wins, over Venezuela, China, Australia, Serbia, and France. They are heading into the quarterfinals as the winners of Group A and they will be playing the Argentinian national team this Wednesday.
The Argentinian squad lost its last group stage game against the Spanish and after a strong start to the tournament, they finished fourth in their group. The best South American team is still led by NBA and ex-NBA players Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola and Andres Nocioni. The three players are all veterans who played for the Argentinian squad that handed the first international defeat to Team USA featuring NBA players in 2002.
This Wednesday, the Argentinian team will probably not be able to put up much of a fight, mostly because their main players are well past their prime. In addition to this, the Argentinians simply do not have the defense necessary to stand up to the offensive skills of NBA stars.
If you ask us, Team USA is probably really happy that they will be playing the Argentinian team after the last few games in the group stage. These games between the US and the Australian, Serbian and French national teams showed a few chinks in the armor of the American squad and the Argentinians are probably the least equipped to take advantage of it.
In the matchup with the Australians, Team USA showed an astounding inability to deal with big players in the paint, most notably Andrew Bogut and David Andersen, when he played in the post. Bogut did as he pleased against DeMarcus Cousins and DeAndre Jordan who simply couldn’t contain him. American wing players were also slow to react to baseline cuts which lead to a number of easy layups for the Boomers team.
Team USA stayed in the game thanks to occasional flashes of individual brilliance in the game against the Australians and in the end, Carmelo Anthony and Kyrie Irving decided the game with a few long-range threes.
Team USA came out guns blazing against the Serbian national squad and they took a commanding lead early on. After a while, however, their opponent started to force their way back into the game, taking advantage of poor defense in the paint. Serbian big men Raduljica and Jokic bested the US centers, with Jokic also stepping out to hit a few shots from the distance. The Serbian team even had a chance to tie the game up in the last seconds, but their three-point attempt fell short.
Then came the game against the French squad, packed with NBA players. The French exploited the weak defense in the paint, as well as the overall lackluster effort on the defense. The game was close to the very end but Team USA was once again able to escape with a win.
For some reason, barely escaping with wins is not what we expected from this US squad. Sure, some of the players are missing, but the way this team is handling their opponents is just not as dominant as we would like.
For one, it is impossible to ignore the lack of effort on defense. It feels like Team USA treats opponents’ possessions with a scary lack of focus that might hurt them badly in the knock-out phase of the tournament. They could have easily lost both the game against the Serbian and the French teams if only a few possessions went the other way.
In the group stage this might fly, but when the tournament is on the line, in the quarter-finals, semifinals or finals, this kind of poor defensive effort might become Team USA’s undoing.
Furthermore, it was obvious that most of Team USA’s offensive possessions ended up with one-on-one flashes of individual talent. For some reason, we just didn’t see any structured sets or plays that would indicate a prepared team. If history has taught us anything, it is that this kind of offense can easily fail.
Team USA should be fine in the quarter-finals. However, in the semis and the finals, they will play against a hungry team that will be prepared to take advantage of the aforementioned shortcomings.
That is how gold medals are lost.