Tuesday, August 22, 2006

2006 FIBA World Champs--Tuesday Games Recap

-USA 114- Slovenia 95-- Now this was impressive. I thought not much could be taken from the China game because I did not think their guards were very good, but Slovenia's guards are pretty solid, & the US defense gave them serious problems after the 1st quarter. Slovenia's offense was getting whatever they wanted for most of the 1st quarter, especially doing damage with dribble penetration. It seemed like we were headed for a competitive game where Team USA was going to have more problems in the half-court. But Coach K's boys came out in the 2nd quarter with a newfound intensity on defense, & their on-the-ball pressure was suffocating for the rest of the game, besides a lapse late in the 4th.

The turnovers started to pile up in the 2nd quarter, helping the US to outscore Slovenia 36-22 in the quarter. What was interesting, the US was causing turnovers (25 overall) without much trapping or scrambling, they did it with just great ball pressure in a more straight-up half-court alignment. Slovenia was having major problems just getting into their offense especially in the 3rd--I am still shocked they were only outscored by 4 points in the 3rd quarter, because it seemed the US totally dominated that quarter.

It was not just the half-court defense that was encouraging, the US offense probably played its best game of the summer. Most importantly, they shot the ball well from outside--10/20 from 3pt. But also, I thought they attacked the zone very well overall & were driving fairly easily vs. the zone. It's hard to pick which few players deserve the most praise in this game since basically every player contributed, besides Chris Bosh who continues to struggle. Wade led all scorers with 20 pts. & was one of the key factors in the US defensive display (4 steals). Lebron had another efficient game with 19 pts. on 8/12 overall & also found the range from outside (2/4 on 3s). Chris Paul once again did a great job running the offense with 9 pts. & 9 assts. Elton Brand had his mid-range shot working again & was drawing fouls seemingly everytime he touched the ball (8/10 free throws). Although, Dwight Howard's numbers were not impressive, I thought once again he was a physical presence in the paint with his most active defensive game so far & was drawing fouls again.

Slovenia started off the game looking very crisp on offense with dribble drives for lay-ins, jumpers, & solid ball movement. But they could not handle the increased US ball pressure in the 2nd quarter & the TOs started to pile up. I thought Bostjan Nachbar (Nets) was pretty aggressive all game & was clearly not phased by playing NBA players--he ended with 15 & 7. The two Slovenian NBA bigs, Rasho & Brezec, both had a pretty solid showing: Rasho--14 & 7; Brezec--15 & 12 (7 off.). If those guys did a better job finishing off their shots, Slovenia maybe could have been closer at the end. PG Jaka Lakovic came on strong in the 2nd half (14 pts.) after looking flustered in the 1st half vs. NBA guys. I was not too impressed with the Slovenia's defense, especially a pretty porous zone besides a nice stretch at the end of the game.

The only minor concerns for the US were the boards & opposition's 3pt. shooting. I was a little surprised that the US got beat on the boards by 11, even with the Slovenia's good size, I thought Howard's strength & speed who get him more rebounds (only 2). Slovenia shot 40% from 3pt. which is a tad worrisome, but the US has to be commended for just getting Slovenia off the 3pt. line (only 15 attempts after Slov. averaged 22.5 attempts in the two first games.

-Greece 72 - Australia 69-- Australia is going to be kicking themselves for this one. Group C does not fail to disappoint once again. Greece shows once again stone-cold resiliency & determination by miraculously pulling out this last second victory. Just an improbable finish.

Greece could never get any type of offensive consistency going all game, besides a stretch in the 2nd quarter--they only shot 6/22 from 3pt. They did not look pretty. But every time they needed a big lift on offense, they ironically turned to their defensive stalwart, Dimis Diamantidis. He hit three 3pts. during the 2nd quarter and sprinkled in a couple nice drives to the rim throughout the game--he ended with 20 pts., 6 rebs., & 3 steals. He also dished out the last 2 assists on both the game-tying 3pt. & game-winning 3pt. Theo Papaloukas had another great floor game on both ends where he did a little of everything: drives, steals, & passes (one beautiful bounce pass)--Theo had 11 pts. Again, Greece chose to feed Lazaros Papadopoulas in the post and he delivered a workmanlike effort with a couple nice hook shots & drawn fouls (He had 12 pts & 3 assts).

I was saying to myself at halftime that Australia does not give Bogut the touches he needs, because the few times they run the offense thru him, good things usually happen; either a nice score or a great pass. I felt in the Turkey game they did not give him enough touches either. It seems like Australia is just as happy trying to set-up their perimeter shooters than go thru Bogut.

Well finally in the 4th, the Aussies decided to make Bogut their main option & good things followed. Bogut made two tough moves in the paint early in the 4th. Then with the shot clock running down Bogut hit a 3pt. to tie the game at 63 with about 1:30 left. Then the next Aussie possession, Andrew finished off an authoratative dunk from a nice feed from Mackinnon where he was fouled & hit the free throw to give the Aussies a 66-63 lead with about a minute.

Australia was up by 5 in the last minute, but they missed a couple of free throws, and they combined that with two costly turnovers that let Greece steal the game. Fotsis hit a long 3pt. to tie the game with 10 seconds left, then Papaloukas made a great poke steal that Diamantiids recovered & fed Nikos Zisis for a game-winning 3pt. with one second on the clock.

Bogut ended with 18 pts. on 8/13 shooting with 7 boards & 3 assts. Sam Mackinnon had a super all-around game with 9 pts., 8 rebs., 7 assts. & 3 steals. Vet PG CJ Bruton had somewhat of a problem getting his shot up over the big Greece PGs, but he still managed 11 pts., 5 assts & 5 steals. What did not help the Aussies were turnovers--23 total.

Other games--
-Lithuania 106 - Qatar 65: Lith. finally got their 1st win after two close losses & kept their playoff hopes alive. K. Lavrinovic led 5 Lith. guys in double figures with 20.

- Italy 64 - Senegal 56: Italy struggled to pull this game out after being down double figures in the 2nd half. Italy improves to 3-0, & faces 3-0 USA tomorrow. Their usually sharp shooting was way off--33.3% overall & 25 % from 3pt. NBA lottery prospect M. Belinelli could not find the range (2/10 from 3pt.), but Matteo Soragna had another solid game with 15 pts. Italy obviously needs a better performance vs. the US--they have better athletes than Slovenia, but their guards are probably lesser ball-handlers than Slovenia.

- Puerto Rico 90 - China 87 (OT): The P.R. backcourt was the difference in this game. Carlos Arroyo had a super game with 25, 10 assts, & 8 rebs. But Larry Ayuso was just as big with 27 pts. on deadly shooting (7/9 from 3pt.), helping P.R. most likely secure a playoff berth. Yao did his part to keep China close--29 & 8. China has to beat Slovenia if they want a chance at a playoff berth.

*--I hope to give a summary of the Turkey-Brazil game later today in its own separate post.