Friday, September 01, 2006

2006 FIBA Worlds-Greece 101, USA 95

- Man, some of those articles & internet posts stating that this US squad was "unstoppable" and how they were going to dominate every team like the original Dream Team look real good right now. Hopefully, these people realize now that the int'l b-ball landscape is a much different place than in the '90s & they should have realized this in 2000 & 2002.

The amazing thing is that the US got beat by a team that played a fair amount of man defense, sort of like Argentina did in '02 & '04. I stressed before one must disregard the def. fg % when talking about Greece, you truly have to watch them to appreciate them. The Greeks changed the complexion of the game when they switched to more high screen/roll action in the 2nd quarter after looking to milk L. Papadopoulus in the post, which really brought the Greek offense to a standstill. The US were burned beyond belief defensively for the final 2 & 1/2 quarters, most on high screen/rolls--the US let the Greeks shoot an unacceptable 62.5% overall for the game.

The US started off the game looking nasty on the defensive end--the Greeks barely could get into their offense--Greece was held to 14 points in the 1st quarter. I thought the game was already decided because I was certain Greece's offense was not dynamic enough to break through this intense pressure; well I guess I was kinda wrong on that prediction.

All of sudden the Greece offense became nearly unstoppable from the middle of the 2nd quarter on--they scored nearly 90 points after the 1st quarter. In 3rd quarter, they literally could not be stopped--they were 14/18--everything they tried worked. It helped that their big guys shot the ball much better than they ever have; actually the whole team shot the ball better from the perimeter than they are known for--8/18 from 3pt. The high/screen roll was the ultimate downfall of the US, and they were getting killed by the slipping big guy time & time again.

Current Houston Rocket Vasileios Spanoulis once again brought great activity on both ends--22 pts, 3/5 on 3pts., & 7/9 from ft line. He was a downright pest on defense & was dynamic on offense--unexpectedly hitting jumpers, drawing fouls, & not surprisingly causing problems with his dribble penetration.

Theo Papaloukas was huge. He was key to their dominance during the middle quarters of the game--his passing was impeccable & he was masterful in the pick/roll, usually finding S. Schortsianitis. Theo finished with 8 pts, 12 assts, & 5rbs. Dimis Diamantidis was his usual heady, steady self with 12, 5 assts, 2 steals & 2 big 3pts, one of which was a pull-back 3 in Bron's grill with the shot clock running down.

Right now, Diamantidis & Papaloukas are on my All-Worlds 1st team; I can't say enough about them. If you're a basketball junkie you love what these guys bring to the table.

The three PG alignment of Spanoulis, Diamantidis, & Papaloukas was spectacular & did a great job collectively running the Greek offense--great move by Greek Coach Yannakis playing them together. Hulking Sofoklis Schortsianitis did a great job finishing off passes in the paint & kept up his highly efficient play in modest minutes--14 pts (6/7 overall) in only 17 minutes--he was averaging about a point per minute played, but was only playing about 10 minutes a game. He also was shooting 12/13 overall for the tourney before the US game; talk about a John Hollinger dream.

The Greeks stuck in their patented man2man for a fair amount of the game, and somewhat surprisingly the US athleticism did not overwhelm them. They mixed in some zone in the 2nd half that was just as effective. They kept up their tremendous help rotations & continued to get their hands on alot of balls that disrupted the US offense.

Carmelo once again was the most consistent US player throughout the game--Melo & Dwight Howard were basically the only reason the US was close at halftime. Melo kept up his production in the 2nd half with some big shots that let the US stay within striking distance--he ended with 27 pts.

But one peculiar thing that was hard to understand, was why D. Howard barely played in the 2nd half & only 13 mins overall? He was huge in the 1st half commanding the boards, especially the offensive glass, and the Greeks had no answer for his paint presence. Something that Coach K needs to be questioned about.

Lebron started to get to the rim at will in the 4th, but it was a little too late. Bron did have 17 pts on 8/14, 5 rebs, 5 assts, but had 4 TOs & 0/4 from 3pt. Hinrich did help out with some clutch 3s & finished with 12 pts on 4/7 from deep. Foul shooting came back to haunt Team USA--(20/34)--something you could see signs of in prior games. Their 3pt. shooting also let them down at the worst time (32.1%), which is always the great equalizer playing vs. Team USA in a one-n-done FIBA game.

Greece definitely helped their case by shooting the ball better than they normally do. But I also thought they did not see themselves as physically overwhelmed by the US, and proved it by defensively holding their own. They showed their great mental toughness that they displayed in every game in the merciless Group C. I picked the US to win this game, but I thought Greece would keep the game close because of their savvy guards, style of play, & defense. But I did not think that the Greek offense would have that much success, which possibly outshined their vaunted defense.

Greece goes for gold. The US battles for....bronze. Yeah, not that much better than '04--somewhere, I truly think Larry Brown is enjoying this. Especially knowing a Duke guy could not do any better than he did.

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