By Zach Silvernail
One day before the young and inexperienced USA team was set to face off against international powerhouse Spain, they geared up for what was sure to be an easy victory over Lithuania. Unfortunately, the US team proved to be exactly what we feared they were: young, inexperienced, and sorely lacking the ability to score in the paint.
The red, white, and blue got off to a dismal start, shooting an atrocious 3-21 from the field, while committing six turnovers in only ten minutes. We looked shocked and overwhelmed by the physical play of Lithuania, and were often looking around for help from the referees after no-calls on drives to the basket. The poor first quarter was capped off by a wide open lay up blown by Rudy Gay, one of the few opportunities the US team had to get an easy bucket. At the conclusion of the first, Lithuania was in the lead 14-7.
The quality of play picked up a little bit in the second quarter, thanks in large part to a much needed spark provided by the bench, led by Russell Westbrook. By applying more ball pressure, and jumping the passing lanes, the US found themselves capitalizing on more turnovers, and creating more frequent fastbreak opportunities. But, Linas Kleiza, Lithuania’s one NBA player, carried his team through the second quarter, finishing the half with ten points. Despite playing better in the second, the US found themselves trailing by 1 at half, while still shooting only 10-34 from the field.
At the beginning of the second half, we finally began to assert ourselves. Behind the leadership of Kevin Durant, the US team started to work more cohesively on the offensive side of the ball, and slowly began to build a little cushion. The surprising play of Eric Gordon and Russell Westbrook off the bench played an enormous role in propelling the otherwise sluggish US squad. Both guards were able to penetrate at will, as well as knock down the three. Heading into the fourth with an eight point lead, one could sense it was only a matter of time before the US pulled away.
And that is exactly what they did. The team started off the fourth quarter with an 8-0 run, essentially putting the game out of reach. As the final buzzer sounded, the scoreboard read 77-61 in favor of the USA, a score that wasn’t exactly indicative of how close the game was. Kevin Durant led the team with 15 points, although he shot poorly from the field and disappeared in many other aspects of the game. Rudy Gay played solid all the way through, finishing with 14 points, while Westbrook added 12, and Gordon added 9.
Probably the most worrisome of the many US struggles against Lithuania is that the Lithuanians appeared to be a team tailormade for the US to blow out. With little to no skill or experience at the guard position for Lithuania, it was assumed the the heavily guard loaded USA team would quickly take advantage of their opponent. Also, with no effective inside presence for Lithuania, the US should’ve been able to hide what is supposed to be our achilles heel: lack of size. But, their gritty guards and forwards continued to get in the lane, and converted on too many easy lay ups.
These are two areas of particular concern heading into the game vs. Spain tomorrow. With great guard play in the extremely reliable and sure-handed Jose Calderon, as well as Ricky Rubio off the bench, it will be difficult to rattle and frustrate the two. Even more frightening is the fact that Spain actually has a true, low-post power in Marc Gasol. Gasol is much bigger than Tyson Chandler, and is very skilled around the basket. To beat the Spanish tomorrow, the US will have to get their veteran guards out of their comfort zone, and slow down the much bigger, more physical Spanish big men. Hopefully the US comes out more prepared than today, for such a performance will not produce the same result against Spain.