Defense carries Team USA past Germany; Greece is next

August 31st, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Defense carries Team USA past Germany; Greece is next
By Brian Windhorst
Akron Beacon Journal
SAITAMA, Japan - Germany didn't give Team USA a stern test but perhaps a stern warning.
The Americans were victorious Wednesday, 85-65, which advanced them to the FIBA World Championship semifinals Friday against Greece. Yet it was a bit of an eye-opener because the usually suspect defense carried the day while the supposed iron-horse offense sputtered.
LeBron James had 13 points, five rebounds, four assists and a steal. Equally as important in the grand scheme, he helped defend German star Dirk Nowitzki, who was held to 15 points.
Carmelo Anthony recovered from a poor start to lead Team USA with 19 points.
Facing an aggressive full zone for the first time in more than a week, Team USA seemed to forget its strategy against such tactics. Instead of driving the gaps and making interior passes, which is standard on all levels of basketball when facing a zone, the Americans were all too happy to hoist away 3-pointers at an astounding rate - and miss them.
Seemingly never embarrassed to shoot, the Americans were averaging 23 3-point attempts per game in the world championships. In this game, they jacked up 40, often because it was the easy thing to do against the zone. They made 10.
Anthony was 2-of-12 from the floor in the first half. Dwyane Wade, who briefly left the game after getting poked in the eye, finished 1-of-11 shooting.
The Americans averaged more than 110 points and 59 percent shooting in the previous six games, giving the impression offense was coming easily. They shot 38 percent Wednesday, however, and had their lowest-scoring game of the tournament.
"It was a very competitive game. They did a good job of packing in the zone," James said. "We missed a lot of easy shots we are capable of making."
The zone issue is important because the Greeks are experts at zone defense and have bigger and rougher defenders than the Germans. No doubt they took copious notes on Team USA's struggles.
While they don't have the well-known roster of NBA players like the other two semifinalists, Argentina and Spain, the Greeks are the reigning European champions and are undefeated in the tournament.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski didn't outwardly show any worries.
"I was happy with the way we executed. I wasn't happy with the way we finished," Krzyzewski said, "but it never interrupted what we were doing on the defensive end, and that shows a mental toughness for a team that hasn't been together that long."
Indeed, the Americans' defense saved them, especially in the second half. Team USA held Germany to 26 points after the break and quickly turned a tight game into a rout.
The U.S. team forced 13 turnovers in the second half, picked up seven steals and blocked six shots. The Americans also ruled the glass, grabbing 22 offensive rebounds, which led to 16 second-chance points.
Krzyzewski has pulled back on his attacking and trapping defense at times during the past several games because it was leading to easy baskets when it failed. After staying back on their heels in the first half, applying pressure to the German guards with Kirk Hinrich and Chris Paul worked well in this one.
Nowitzki, who was averaging 24.5 points in the tournament, could have been the equalizer. But he's carried his team throughout the tournament after a long season with the Mavericks and the fatigue seemed to show.
He shot 3-of-12 from the floor. Shane Battier and James were strong against him, denying entry passes and preventing him from driving. Chris Bosh and Anthony also served time defending him.
"Dirk is kind of unstoppable," said James, whose defensive effort offset his seven turnovers. He continues to struggle holding onto the smaller, slicker FIBA ball.
"We just wanted to send as many defenders at him as possible."

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