Wednesday, August 23, 2006

2006 FIBA World Champs--USA 94, Italy 85

- After looking scary good the day before, Team USA came back down to earth vs. Italy. Italy made a concerted effort to be more methodical on offense & were very careful with the ball, especially in the 1st half. And this slowed-down pace definitely made Team USA uncomfortable. But Melo saved the day in the 2nd half, to push the US past Italy.

The US offense in the first half did not look real good, and only managed 36 points. Not many turnovers were forced, which pretty much eliminated their transition game. The US finished the 1st quarter strong, but really fell apart in the 2nd quarter, only scoring 11 points. The US did not get their first FG in the quarter until about 6 minutes in. The scary part was they were having trouble vs. a straight man defense.

The defense was not too special either in the 1st half, and once again had trouble with dribble penetration & defending the 3pt. line. (Italy shot a nice 58% from the field in the 1st half). After the halftime break, the US made some adjustments and cut down on Italy's proficiency from outside--Italy were only 2/8 from deep in the 2nd half, after going 5/13 in the 1st.

If Melo was not lethally hot in the 2nd half, particularly in the 3rd--he had 19 pts, the US could have been in serious trouble. Melo did about everything imaginable on the offensive end: drilling an array of jumpers & driving the ball. Wade also did a great job penetrating in the 2nd half, and was crucial to Team USA's comeback from 12 points down in the 3rd. The US just attacked the Italy man defense better in the 2nd half with some nice screen action & especially drive & dishing to Brand.

Since they couldn't cause enough turnovers, I thought the US did a good job running out after missed shots by Italy, which was key to taking the lead in the 3rd (Probably an adjustment made by D'Antoni).

You can see why Marco Belinelli is high on everyone's lottery board. He was easily the best player on the floor in the 1st half, raining down crazy jumpers & showcasing his great athleticism. Although he does still need to improve his shot selection--he took a couple ridiculous shots. Stefano Machinelli showcased his nice athleticism to go along with a nice jumper & solid ball-handling. He was 6/6 from the field for 12 pts., but only got 16 minutes. Fabio Di Bella did a great job putting pressure on the US defense with penetration & activity--he had 12 pts. & 5 assts.

Well, you can see now the US really has a hard time adjusting when they can't produce a ton of turnovers--they got 16 overall, & only 8 steals. What was a little discouraging for Team USA was how they had trouble putting Italy away with Italy playing the whole game in man defense. Italy did nearly everything right when playing the US--slow the pace, take care of the ball & stay packed in a zone. Oh wait, erase the zone part. Don't forget I said "nearly", not just "everything".

Why the Italian coach never switched to zone in the 2nd half, I will never know--this was a massive mistake by him. I think if Italy played more zone they could have possibly won the game. You basically enticed Wade to kill you & he eventually did. Italy put him on the line 10 times--zones naturally cut this down. Why not make Wade settle for jumpers? A zone could have put a damper on the dump-offs to Brand off the dribble in the 3rd--Elton was on the line 9 times. This combined with leaving Di Bella & Machinelli on the bench did not make me think highly of Coach Recalcati.

Granted, Melo was drilling shots--he was helped by getting rhythm into his shots by having him try to shake a defender before he shoots. But he was the only guy who proved he could hit from outside. I'll say it again--make Team USA beat you with jumpers. If they are hitting, live with it. Do not, I repeat, do not entice them to drive. You knew it was just a matter of time before the US started to get hot vs. a man.