The games will include the first-ever NBA preseason games to be held in Brazil and the Philippines, and in the cities of Bilbao, Spain and Manchester, England.
Ruben Magnano coached a game that made all of his fellow Argentinians happy.
Problem was, Magnano was coaching Brazil.
Magnano made the curious decision to sit Anderson Varejao for the entire fourth quarter, and Argentina held off a strong fourth-quarter run by Brazil and defeated their South American rivals 82-77 Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the 2012 Olympics.
Magnano, who coached Argentina to a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens but then had a falling out with the national federation, was not solely to blame. Unable to make proper use of their size advantage, the Brazilians played small in the final quarter and were undone throughout the game by their horrific 3-point shooting (5-for-20 through the first 39 minutes) and nearly-as-horrific free throw shooting (12-for-24, with Splitter going 3-for-8.)
Leandro Barbosa and Marcelinho Huertas led Brazil with 22 points apiece, but Alex Garcia committed a key offensive foul when he charged into Manu Ginobili on a fast-break with 52 seconds remaining and Brazil trailing 74-71. (Some might say it was a 50-50 call, but Ginobili appeared to get back and set up his defensive stance cleanly before Garcia ran into him.)
Ginobili, who scored 16 points, made both free throws for a five-point lead.
Argentina scored four points from the foul line in the next 21 seconds to clinch it.
(RELATED CONTENT: Spain defeats flagrant fouling France 66-59.)
Luis Scola led Argentina with 17 points, and Carlos Delfino also had 16. Argentina moves on to a likely semifinal matchup with Team USA, which played Australia in Wednesday’s final quarterfinal game.
So we’re all getting a reminder of how things are really day-to-day in the Olympics, eh?
A couple days ago, Carmelo Anthony had the new U.S. Olympics scoring record (37) and Team USA was considered unbeatable after they out Dream Teamed the original Dream Team and beat Nigeria by 83.
Then we get through Day 4 of the competition, and the world has turned upside down. The single highest-scoring game now belongs to Patty Mills of Australia, who dropped 39 on Great Britain as the Boomers came back from an 10-point halftime deficit to defeat Great Britain.
Oh, and Team USA?
Not looking quite so unbeatable anymore, I’d say. When those 3-pointers don’t fall, when the defense gets its share of turnovers but can’t get stops at other times, when the rim is unprotected with Tyson Chandler (8 minutes vs. Lithuania) on the bench, the U.S. team is a structurally flawed team. There’s no getting around that fact.
One week from today, we’ll have our gold medal game.
And right now, it looks like Team USA will go up against Australia in the quarterfinals, Argentina, Spain or Brazil in the semifinals, and Russia, France, Spain or Brazil in the gold medal game (assuming they get there).
But the unexpected can happen, and Monday could be the day the tanks roll in and change everything.
Before Monday’s games get underway, let’s ask 5 pertinent questions about the 2012 Olympics:
1. IS IT A CERTAINTY THAT USA AND RUSSIA WILL WIN THEIR GROUPS?
No. But it is highly probable. In Group A, the Americans will finish first even if they lose to Argentina — unless they lose by at least 110 points. The FIBA tiebreaker is point differential, and Team USA is +162 through four games. In Group B, the Russians are undefeated with one game remaining, against Australia. The line on that game is only 7, and you know why? Because Russia’s clever coach, David Blatt, could decide to become the first Israeli-American to send in the Russian tanks. And if Russia loses to Australia in Monday’s first game (3 a.m. EDT), the night’s penultimate game, Brazil-Spain, becomes a must-win game instead of a must-lose game.
2. WHY WOULD BRAZIL-SPAIN BE A MUST-LOSE GAME?
Simple. Because the loser (assuming Russia defeats Australia) goes into the bracket opposite Team USA’s bracket and would not have to face LeBron James’ team until the gold medal game. If you want to know how important it is to be on the other side of the bracket, ask Italy. In 2004, they defeated Lithuania in the semifinals and played Argentina for the gold because Argentina put on a clinic in defeating Team Marbury in the other semifinal. Italy has fallen off the basketball map since then, but they still have that silver-medal finish in 2004 in their national resume.
3. WHO POSES THE GREATEST THREAT TO TEAM USA?
The team that has been lulling everyone to sleep, or just plain sucking-but-mostly-winning — Brazil. They have the world’s best non-NBA point guard in Marcelinho Huertas, who leads the tournament with 6.3 assists (tied for 1st, actually, with Alexei Shved of Russia), they have 3-point shooters, and they have a beastly NBA front line of three NBA players — Anderson Varejao, Nene and Tiago Splitter — who can punish the Americans on the boards like no one else. In case you didn’t notice, the Americans were outrebounded (42-37 overall, and 36-24 on the defensive boards) for the first time in this tournament Saturday by Lithuania, which played small ball and used Jonas Valanciunas for a mere 9 minutes. Brazil also has a brilliant coach in Ruben Magnano, who is Argentine but is coaching Argentina’s greatest rival because of a fallout a few years back with the Argentine federation.
4. AMONG NON-NBA PLAYERS, WHO IS HAVING THE BEST TOURNAMENT?
Tough call, but the nod at this point goes to Russia’s 6-foot-5 shooting guard, Vitaly Frizdon, who scored 24 against Spain as Russia rallied from a 20-2 deficit to win Saturday, and who hit the buzzer-beating game-winner against Brazil in the tournament’s most thrilling finish to date. Frizdon plays for Khimki Moscow, where last year he was teammates with e-NBA players Chris Quinn, Sergei Monia, Zoran Plananic, Mickael Gelabele and Australia’s Matt Nielsen, who is a borderline NBA-worthy player. Khimki won the EuroCup (a notch below the Euroleague) last season. Honorable mention goes to Ike Diogu of Nigeria, who was out of the NBA last season and played in China. He is averaging 17.0 ppg, 10th best in the Olympics.
5. WHO ELSE IS OFF THE CHARTS STATISTICALLY?
Let’s start with Nicolas Batum, who is shooting an otherworldly 84.4 percent from 2-point range (he is 6-for-17 on 3s) and scoring 15.2 points per game for France, which will finish second in Group A unless Argentina defeats Team USA. Luis Scola and Patty Mills are tied for the scoring lead at 22.5 points per game, and Carmelo Anthony is fourth at 20.5 despite playing only 16.8 minutes per game. ‘Melo’s 64.4 field goal percentage leads all players, with Andrei Kirilenko (60.9), Batum (60 pct), Luis Scola (.576) and Pau Gasol (.564) giving chase. ‘Melo also leads the tournament in 3-point percentage (.636, 14-for-22).
(RELATED CONTENT: Roundup of Saturday’s games)
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(RELATED CONTENT: Video: Lessons learned vs. Lithuania; Argentina preview)
Chris Sheridan is publisher and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com. He has covered every version of Team USA since 1996, at the Olympics in Atlanta, Sydney, Athens and Beijing, as well as the World Championships in Indianapolis, Japan and Turkey. Follow him on Twitter.
Mike Krzyzewski has won 927 college basketball games, made 11 Final Fours, won four NCAA Championships and earned an Olympic gold medal since landing his first head coaching gig at Army in 1975. In those 37 years, he’d never sat courtside for anything this ludicrous.
“Well, obviously, we just shot better than any team in a game that I have ever coached,” Kryzewski said after Team USA’s 156-73 dismantling of Nigeria.
When the buzzer sounded, finally and mercifully, Team USA had set U.S. Olympic records for three-pointers in a game (29), three-pointers attempted (46), field goals made (59), field goal percentage (71.1 percent), had tied the U.S. mark for assists (41) and saw Carmelo Anthony break the single-game U.S. Olympic scoring mark with 37 points.
The States’ 156 points were an overall Olympic record, 18 more than the 138 that Oscar Schmidt’s Brazilians hung on Egypt back in 1988 and 23 more than the 133 that Dream Team II scored against Hu Weidong and China in 1996.
The second leading scorer on that Chinese team? A 17-year-old Wang Zhizhi, who’s still playing, starting, but hardly jumping for Team China at age 33 in these 2012 Olympics.
Yet if you watch the highlights of Grant Hill and Co. against the Chinese in Atlanta, you’ll notice that Liu Yudong gave China their first bucket merely one pass and a dribble into the ballgame.
Three seconds in, China was winning this thing.
Nigeria wasn’t quite as early to the party.
By the time the Hornets’ Al-Farouq Aminu dropped in a pair of free throws with 6:43 left in the first, the U.S. had already inflated a 13-point cushion.
That 13-2 lead blossomed into a 49-25 advantage by the end of the first quarter. Considering it took Nigeria 40 minutes to score 60 against Tunisia, logic told us that a comeback was improbable.
Then Carmelo Anthony came along and ripped logic a new one.
The Knickerbocker went 13-of-16 and made 10 of his 12 threes (U.S. record for threes made, attempted) to get his U.S.-record setting 37. What’s even wilder is that he needed just 14:29 to do it.
Quick: close your eyes and guess which American’s record he broke. It’s not Jordan or Bird or Barkley or Hakeem or Magic or Shaq or Kobe or LeBron.
None of those clowns.
Try Beijing Ducks All-Star Stephon Marbury, who put up 31 points for The Repressed Dream Team in 2004. In retrospect, Starbury netting 31 in an Olympic game should have been a warning to us all that trouble was afoot in Athens.
The way Melo’s playing, it might be a while before he seeks refuge in the Chinese Basketball Association a la Steph.
“The way that [my teammates] tell me to shoot the ball, encouraging me to make shots, take shots, but then just to feel it every time, that touch,” Anthony said.
“It’s kind of hard to explain it. If you’ve never done it, you really wouldn’t understand what I’m talking about.”
One man might understand, and that’s Kevin Durant. That’s because the 38 he dropped on Lithuania in the 2010 World Championships still stands as the overall U.S. record for international play.
And if you had Team USA in your office’s Olympic Poker Pool, you’re working on a nice little straight: Deron Williams had 13 points, Durant had 14, Kevin Love had 15, and Kobe Bryant had 16.
Russell Westbrook was second in scoring with 21 points that some might call “quiet,” but only because this bonanza of a contest was so overwhelmingly loud.
Team USA won by 83. There are eight teams in London that don’t average that many points per game. So naturally, the sportsmanship police were out in full, and one reporter asked Nigeria’s Ike Diogu if Team USA had tried to humiliate them by running up the tally.
Coach K didn’t take too kindly to the query.
“The first thing we did was not play LeBron and Kobe in the second half,” Krzyzewski said. “The second thing we did is, even with Carmelo shooting like that, we benched him.”
And what’s a coach to do when your “worst” five—let’s call it Westbrook, Harden, Iguodala, Love and The Brow—could secede from K’s Union and still compete for a medal all their own?
The last man to get in on the action was Andre Iguodala, whose two straight threes in the fourth quarter’s third minute pushed the USA’s total to 130.
“It only matters if we achieve our goals,” Iguodala said after the game. ”That’s three games down and a few more to go. Our mission is to get the gold and we’re trying to peak at the right time.”
So 156 points isn’t the peak. Interesting.
You think the locals should be impressed by a measly 156 points? Please. There’s a reason it’s not called Average Britain: In the 1900 Olympics, the Devon and Somerset Wanderers of Great Britain defeated the French Athletic Club Union by 158.
It was the first, last and only time cricket was featured in the Summer Games.
If Thursday’s beatdown proved anything, it’s that the Team USA’s toughest opponent will be themselves argument is stale.
This is not golf. This is basketball, and Russia has a very good basketball team. The best outside the U.S. right now, as a matter of fact.
Thursday, that Russian basketball team played the similarly undefeated Brazil.
After Marcelinho Huertas put Brazil up two with six seconds remaining, Russian coach David Blatt (who hails from Framingham, Mass.) drew up a play for Vitaly Fridzon, who had made only one shot and a free throw up to that point.
Blatt’s confidence paid off, as Alexey Shved found Fridzon off the inbounds and Vitaly rose and hit from the corner, even as Leandro Barbosa rolled beneath his feet on a foul that went unwhistled.
The team Russia plays next is Spain, who narrowly escaped Great Britain today 79-78 after a furious 30-point fourth quarter by the Brits knocked Spain on their heels. Luol Deng had 26 points, 9 boards and 7 assists for the hosts, but it was his lack of awareness that cost GB a chance at a final shot.
After Deng had hit an off-balance three to cut the lead to one with five seconds remaining, Spain inbounded the ball to Jose Calderon. Instead of fouling, Deng—who had four fouls, one under the FIBA limit—sidestepped Calderon and let him run by as the clock unwound to triple zeroes.
It would have been the biggest win in British basketball history, and it wouldn’t have even been close. Great Britain is 0-3, yet has a significant opportunity to get in the win column on Saturday against Australia.
Lithuania rode 15 quick points from Martynas Pocius to a four-point lead over France at the half, but Tony Parker and Nicolas Batum combined for 48 points on just 25 shots and got Les Bleus the win, 82-74.
The Knicks’ newest signee and Argentina’s starting point guard Pablo Prigioni missed the game with kidney stones.
We’ve had a very positive preparation for the Olympics! Tomorrow we start competing! Let’s see if you like this video!youtube.com/watch?v=j1Q0H6…
— Pau Gasol (@paugasol) July 28, 2012
The self-proclaimed “beast” of the London Olympics shared this 5-minute lovefest video with the world, and make no mistake — Spain is going into these Olympics supremely confident.
Pau’s brother Marc has a bruised shoulder that kept him out of the final friendly against Team USA. Juan Carlos Navarro, the team’s best guard, has plantar fasciitis and a bad back.
This is a team that is banged up, and as good as Serge Ibaka makes them, I like the Brazilians to beat Spain in pool play and finish atop Group B, which means they would avoid the Americans until the gold medal game. Brazil has the better point guard (Huertas>Calderon), and Brazil has a front line of Nene, Anderson Varejao and Tiago Splitter that can neutralize Spain’s bigs.
Furthermore, much to the chagrin of my Spanish followers, I have picked Argentina to defeat Spain in the bronze medal game. Why? In a word: Manu. He’ll be first-team all-Olympics if his ankle holds up, which it almost never seems to do in these tournaments (see 2002 Worlds, 2008 Olympics).
For more on my predictions, and the chances of Team USA losing, give a read to this epic Olympic preview that draws upon the lessons of the past to give everyone who may be overconfident back in the states reason to pause.