The stars aligned for a Spanish upset today. All the ingredients were in place: Spain brought their A+++++ game today. Kobe and Lebron were in foul trouble. Jason Kidd didn't get lost on the way to the gym and was inexplicably given lots of playing time. Spain shot great from 3 as a team, Rudy Fernandez played the game of his life, including a big dunk on Dwight Howard. Juan Carlos Navarro made some very difficult runners. Unfrozen Caveman Basketball Player Marc Gasol pounded the boards and scored inside. Pau scored inside until crunch time, at which point he was thrown off by minimal contact and pouted to the referees.
Unfortunately for Spain, Team USA brought like a B+ game today, and no other national team can beat Team USA playing at that level. They shot pretty well from three, but not great. Their frontcourt had some issues with Spain's size, but that was offset by Team USA's wings (Wade, Lebron) using their athleticism and compact strength to pound the boards.
There were some stretches where Team USA struggled, but in the first half Dwyane Wade carried the offense, and though I hate to say it, Chucker Kobe bailed them out in the fourth from about the 8-minute mark down to about the 2 minute mark.
Some observations from the game:
Crucial Stretch for Team USA:
Spain had just hit a three to pull within 2. Kobe takes the ball and drives the lane, absorbs some contact, and hits a leaner from just inside the foul line on the way down. It's the kind of shot we are accustomed to seeing from Manu. Lead back to four, and Team USA gets a defensive stop, then Kobe drives and dishes to an open Deron Williams, who drills a three. Next time down, Kobe hits a three.
Crisis averted, lead extended. That was Spain's moment. If Kobe misses there, and Spain hits a three to take the lead, I think it would have come down to the wire. Instead, the USA gets a lead they are able to maintain the rest of the game.
Nail in the Coffin:
At about the 2 minute mark, Juan Carlos Navarro drew a highly questionable foul on Kobe. He goes to the line and makes one of two FTs to cut it to 6. JCN misses the second, but Teen Sensation Ricky Rubio chases the rebound down and throws it off of Chris Paul to give the ball back to Spain. Spain then runs their offense, and Pau Gasol ends up with the ball at the top of the key and drives. Weak side help comes, and Pau's more handsome brother Mark makes an alert cut to the basket for a potential lay in or dunk.
Dwyane Wade is stuck in no man's land, as he doesn't want to come off Jimenez, who had just hit a three. Wade steps in front of Marc Gasol to prevent the easy dunk, and Pau Gasol dishes to an open Jimenez for three. Wade recovers quickly and hustles out to contest Jimenez's shot, but not before Jimenez gets a pretty clean look at the basket.
He misses, but the Gasol brothers are in good rebounding position. Lebron skies for a tough board in traffic, then gets raked by Rubio after he landed but holds on. That was it for Spain; they never threatened after that.
Some guys had their first names on their jerseys (Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, Rudy Fernandez). Some guys had their last names (Pau Gasol, Jimenez). One guy had his first initial and last name (F. Reyes). What gives? Is this the XFL? Can they just pick whatever they want? Was there a benchwarmer who had "el no me gustan" (translation: He Hate Me) on his jersey?
What We Learned in the Tournament
1. The Spurs' giving Scola away continues to mystify. I maintain that there has to be some behind-the-scenes reason, because I don't believe the answer is that Spurs' management is stupid. But what could it be? The best explanation seems to me to be that they liked Splitter better, and thought they could be cheap and not pay for both guys.
I also wish Nocioni played for us. During the regular season, I would follow the progress of Luol Deng and Tyrus Thomas, hoping they would make Nocioni expendable, at which point Manu would force RC to trade for him.
2. I'm always interested to see in All-Star games who the real All-Stars are and who is the second tier (like Michael Finley or Sean Elliott, back in the day). On this team, Lebron and Dwyane Wade separated themselves. I hadn't seen much of him in Toronto before the games, Chris Bosh looked like he belonged. Dwight Howard can dunk but doesn't do much else. Chris Paul looked like he belonged, but Deron Williams did not. Carmelo Anthony is a posturing poseur ass-clown. And Jason Kidd is totally done (nice trade, Dallas!).
3. Ricky Rubio's basketball IQ is off the charts. He reminds me of Gretzky or Larry Bird, in that he seems to see the game a step ahead of everyone else. He picked off some passes and made hustle plays (like his deflection off CP3 that gave Spain their last chance). He seemed to sense when a Team USA guard was waiting to pounce on a pass (the kind they were turning into breakaway dunks against everyone else), and use their aggressiveness against them to put his team in advantageous positions. Now if only he could learn to shoot.
4. Team USA is still the best basketball playing nation in the world, and if they play OK to pretty well, they beat everyone else. Period. However, the rest of the world has progressed to where an All-International team (say Nash or Tony Parker, Manu, Nowitzki, Yao, Pau Gasol) would play Team USA evenly.
Oh well, no basketball until preseason, at which point George Hill out of IUPOUOPPUUI will prove all you haters wrong, and Mahinmi will make us all forget about Luis... whatshisname. Or not.