Monday, August 25, 2008

When It All Comes Together

Cohesion, coaching, feel, focus, and talent. It all came together in the Men’s Basketball Gold Medal Final, which I was finally able to catch on The USA and Spain were quite effective on offense as players from both teams were often able to create penetration opportunities via dribble drives or entry passes. Spain actually attempted 20 more 2-point field goals than the US. Spain made an effort to use pick-and-rolls to open up the floor and pound the ball into the Gasols while the Spanish zone forced (or allowed, depending on interpretation) the US to take 28 3-pointers (of which the Americans hit 13). In sum, though, the effective field goal percentages, which adjust for the fact that a 3 is worth one more point than a 2, tell the story with Team USA converting at a rate of 70% on 65 attempts to Spain’s 57% on 74 shots. A look at the true shooting percentages, which integrate free throws, also supports the outcome: US 73% to Spain 62%.

The teams executed their game plans and only committed a combined 27 turnovers. Whereas the US often relied on game flow predicated on spreading the floor, 4 out-1 in situations, and transition scoring, Team Spain used its pick-and-roll game, hi-low action, and inside presence to generate a balance of scoring opportunities. Team USA ran two dozen pick-and-rolls to start its half court plays, often with Chris Bosh initiating the action. The couple of times that Bosh and Dwight Howard slipped their screens, they were found in the paint for a 2-point conversion or a Spanish foul.

Though it only scored directly on five of those P&R’s, the Americans were able to move the ball or penetrate for lay-ups or wide-open kick outs. Spain had a hard time containing the driving abilities and passing of its opponent, although the US was not unbelievable at stopping Spain’s attack either. Time and time again, Spain was able to blitz through checkpoints, often out of its 1-2 high set that allows the playmaker to come off of a pick at either elbow. As the US failed to close down those areas, Spain moved the ball and capitalized on poor rotations and slow defensive block slide-downs for 2’s or kick-outs for 3’s. The US did, however, make an effort to contest shots, and even when Spain scored, Coach Mike D’Anotoni’s lightning fast outlets off of makes put the US at an advantage.

Dwyane Wade, as usual, was spectacular throughout with a PaP of 40.4 (for those familiar with John Hollinger’s Game Score, Wade’s was 22.4, 8 points higher than Kobe’s). Wade went right at the rim when he first touched the ball in the first quarter, steadily opened up his game with four 3-pointers, and produced breakaways with sleek steals. Kobe took over in the fourth and demonstrated to the world his killer instinct that has so often been discussed (PaP 24.5, GmSc14.2). Chris Paul also went to work and demonstrated why his versatility was so important for his team’s fortunes (PaP 26.3, GmSc 11.8).

Other observations:

Although used sparingly, Tayshaun Prince utilized his eight minutes in the final game and made significant plays (PaP 34.5).

Interesting how Carmelo Anthony really relished the role of spot-up shooter -- he did not have to do much else. He was second on the team to Kobe’s 53 3-point attempts. Melo took 37 3’s during the Games and 27 2’s (don’t think he reached his predicted rebounding goal).

Coach K called two time-outs in the final. After the first one, Spain turned to its zone defense and the US attempted three straight 3-pointers and missed all of them. Fortunately for Team USA, it had Kobe on the floor, and in attack mode, after the second US time-out. He proceeded to drive in for a lay-up, record two assists, and nail a 3.

Despite Wade’s dominance, Kobe’s outstanding team play, and CP13’s steadiness, Lebron James was voted most important USA player on this site’s poll by a wide margin, winning by more than 30 votes. There is no substitute for a 6’8” phenom who can block shots like he is receiving TD passes, power dribble through defenses as if he is a rushing fullback, distribute like a PG, or put on a showy smile with the best of them.

Congrats, Team USA. It was an exciting and inspiring run…


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