Nitpicking Team USA's 37-point win
ISTANBUL, Turkey -- There was never any doubt that the Americans were going to win this one, and win it decisively -- which is exactly what they did, beating Iran 88-51. The bigger question was whether they were going to start showing that their offense had caught up to their defense, which continues to be their strongest suit.
Truth be told, it hasn't.
The turnovers keep on coming and coming, and the lack of ball movement and player movement in their half-court sets was again noticeable against Iran. After the game, Team USA director Jerry Colangelo agreed: "We need a lot of work."
And that is why the offensive execution, or lack thereof, is Team USA's greatest concern as it continues moving through its dead week -- a day off, followed by Wednesday's game against Iran and Thursday's against Tunisia, followed by three full days off before the single-elimination knockout round begins as the field at the World Championship is whittled down to 16. "Well, the second half was a lot better than the first half," Colangelo said. "We were still throwing the ball away and forcing things in the first half. We need more movement, and we got better movement in the second half. Not as good as we need to be, that's why we need some good practice time and we can get that after our next game.
"The good thing is we got minutes for people who need minutes. [Danny] Granger could be a key guy because he can score. Tonight he showed he can do that if given some minutes. Kevin Love continues to be a contributor. You can depend on him for almost a rebound a minute, and he can score. And it was good for [Tyson] Chandler to get some productivity.
"But too helter-skelter, and we need some practice time. Real practice time."
Team USA should defeat Tunisia and finish atop Group B with a 5-0 record, and should go into the round of 16 against the fourth-place team from Group A -- a group that had a major surprise Wednesday when Angola defeated Germany 92-88 in overtime. Australia and Angola will now play each other Thursday with the stakes raised, the winner being assured of finishing no lower than third.
After the round of 16, the Americans would move on to a quarterfinal game in which Spain, currently third in Group D after two stunning losses, could very well be their opponent.
And in order to win against a quality opponent at that stage, the Americans are going to need to clean up their offensive act. Their two-point victory against Brazil two days earlier should have been a warning to them, but their sloppiness in the first half against Iran, which played almost nothing but zone defense, was a further indication they still have a long way to go to reach the level they'll need to be at to break America's 16-year drought in this tournament.
They almost never run the high pick-and-roll, their point guards often try to break down a zone by penetrating into the lane, where a big man is allowed to stay stationary, and their drive-and-kick offense produces roughly as many turnovers as it does open jump shots.
Against Brazil two nights earlier, they had only eight assists on their 23 field goals.
"For us, we learned a lot from watching the Brazil game," Iran coach Veselin Matic said. "American team have a problem with the one-on-one game. They can't really play one-on-one. [Kevin] Durant, [Chauncey] Billups need to speed up to play one-on-one, but they are a team that is not under control. They are not really good in the one-on-one game. Today, [Derrick] Rose didn't penetrate to the basket, and they don't have a post-up player."
I charted all 85 of the Americans' offensive possessions against Iran, 45 in the first half and 40 in the second. They had four turnovers and two missed shots among their first eight possessions, and they ended the first quarter with a 24-second violation for their seventh turnover of the period. They got less sloppy as the game progressed, but the number of times in which they passed the ball multiple times to produce an open look numbered fewer than 10.
Their turnover totals from their first four games have included 17 vs. Slovenia, 22 against Brazil and 17 against Iran. Only in their opener against Croatia (seven TOs) did they look crisp.
"I think we've had lapses that we have to get away from," said Love, who led the Americans with 13 points despite playing just under 11 minutes. "We're having so many turnovers. I think if we clean that up, we can be a very, very good team. It's getting down to crunch time now when it's one and done. So we need to get better now, we need to come together now or we could be sent home early."
Against Iran, the Americans again used their athleticism to force turnovers that translated into transition opportunities, but their ability to keep using that formula will decline in the latter stages of the tournament when the quality of the opposition -- and the familiarity of those players with their teammates -- will change the equation.
Still, they have time to work on what's ailing them. As Allen Iverson famously said: "We're talking about practice."
"I think part of it is we've gotten a little bit mentally tired. And you don't practice. And so the habits we're trying to build, sometimes you revert back to less productive habits," coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "So we want to use these two games as a chance for us to get sharper, and we were much sharper in the second half than the first half.
"And hopefully tomorrow we'll be even sharper, and then we get a chance to practice before the medal round."
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