‘Melo ups intensity as U.S. holds off Australia late

8/11/2016 by Dominic Hebert

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The U.S. Men’s Olympic Basketball team has mostly dominated in the Olympics since the 1992 Dream Team set the world ablaze by drubbing everyone in their path. Yesterday, against Australia they came close to tanking on just the fourth loss since this dominance began. The other three came in the 2004 year that many have looked at as a failure despite the U.S. receiving a bronze medal.

There was speculation prior to the game that Australia would be their greatest test this year largely due to the level of NBA talent their roster boasts. Five of their players are currently playing in the NBA with three having considerable experience on elite teams. Patty Mills and Aron Baynes won a title with the San Antonio Spurs in 2014, Andrew Bogut was recently traded from a championship Golden State Warriors team with back to back finals appearances (with no end in sight), and Matthew Dellavedova played backup to Team USA’s starting point guard Kyrie Irving for the 2016 champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

Still, the U.S. team is made up solely of high-level NBA players. Depth should make most of these games easy wins as they have in the past, so what gave them such an issue that it led to a five-point halftime deficit?

Defense was the difference early. Coach K’s stacked roster went just 17/46 through the first two quarters. Much of that was due to the defensive intensity of Australia. Bogut, fresh off of having the second-best defensive box plus/minus of league centers, was more spry than he had been for the entire NBA playoffs. He jumped out on hedges/switches and had plenty of point-blank looks against a lost U.S. defense. Dellavedova was in their heads from the start which elicited a push from Paul George in the first quarter.

There was plenty of sloppy play from the U.S. as well which led to several turnovers and fast break points for the Aussies. When the game nearly in-hand with good ball protection, Klay Thompson dribbled the ball too low and then tried to call an illegal timeout. If Australia had gotten possession and scored, this would have been a one possession game with a minute remaining. Then, with 36.3 seconds to go, Kyrie Irving made a terrible pass out of a trap which perhaps fortunately led to an out-of-bounds to Australia because several of their players were already running back in transition.

Carmelo Anthony, who was a member of that oft-ridiculed 2004 team and in 2012 vs. Nigeria scored 37 points in just 14 minutes, seemed to be the only player for Team USA that was fully-engaged for the entirety of play. The current king of international play surpassed LeBron for the all-time lead in Olympic career points at 293. His 9 three-pointers kept the U.S. afloat and were key in the second-half when they took the lead.

Coach K is going to have to get his players more engaged and willing to pass up good shots for great ones if they are to commandingly take gold.

The men play Serbia next on Friday, August 12th at 3:00 pst


You can reach Dominic Hebert at ddhebert@ucdavis.edu

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