Team USA, as expected by all but a few Australian players' parents, took out a victory over the Australian Boomers in Shanghai today. The 11 point victory probably did not please the American camp all that much, as many were predicting a whitewash, particularly with Aussie NBA big man Andrew Bogut out with a faulty ankle.
Dwyane Wade has silenced all of the naysayers in the pre-Olympic going with some 2006-like performances of late, including 22 points today. He was happy with the team's performance:
"It was a great game for us, the last game before going into the (Olympic) tournament, we are happy that we played them and I'm sure they feel they got better from this," Wade said.
"But at the end of the day, we won the ball game and found a way to win."
Despite Bogut being out, Australia had the advantage of not having to go to small ball, with Chris Anstey, Matt Nielsen and David Andersen all fit to go. Anstey had a game befitting of his vast international experience, stepping up with 13 points and 6 rebounds and at one point getting into a firey situation with his opponents in a short-lived scuffle.
As always, Team USA came out of the game not feeling too unsettled and walking with the swagger that only they can muster. However, the reality is that should Bogut have been in action and had replaced the minutes that David Andersen played the result may have been infinitely closer. Andersen (4 points, 4 rebounds and 5 fouls) appeared uncomfortable at times in this match, perhaps as he was forced to play down low more than usual in Bogut's absence. Once the Games begin and the Milwaukee Buck is back in action, Andersen will be able to go back to his bread-and-butter mid-range jumper.
Bogut will indeed be back in time for the Olympics, with the team saying that he is 70 percent fit. "If this was the Olympics today, he would play, but it's not _ it's just a warm-up game, and we are going to be cautious and make sure it is right," the spokesman said.
The opening of the match was not unlike the 2004 Olympic encounter between these teams, where a very tight first three quarters culminated with a fourth quarter run-away by Team USA. Team USA played full-court defence today right from the get-go, with Jason Kidd closely manning CJ Bruton. With the athletes at their disposal, this is clearly the best move. However Australia did not get too flustered by this and Bruton's experience allowed him to navigate the press well.
Eventually coach Brian Goorjian made the decision to bring in 19 year old Patrick Mills for a change of pace at the point and he did not disappoint. Mills' speed certainly took away from one of Team USA's strengths and he did surprise them en route to the basket on more than one occasion. He finished the game with 13 points and no doubt gained some new NBA scouting admirers who will be closely following his exploits at St Mary's next season in anticipation of coming Drafts. His lack of size is easily made up for in the speed, shooting and decision-making departments. Australia certainly does not lose a great deal when he subs onto the court.
In the second quarter Australia slumped somewhat, as USA used their full-court press to their advantage and the Boomers' offence suffered somewhat, giving up 22 points to 10 in the period.
The third saw Australia rally back and get within spitting distance, but the Americans never really were forced to get into top gear, as they kept the lead in double figures toward the end of the final quarter. Carmelo Anthony proved he can man the power forward position quite adequately with 12 points and 10 rebounds, whilst fellow classmen Wade and LeBron James (16 points, 4 assists, 5 steals and 3 blocks) stood out from the rest. Dwight Howard in no way dominated inside and often appeared to need some help against the bigger Australians. He may also need some free-throw practice before the USA meets with some tougher opponents after going zero for six from the stripe.
After all the talk of the imporance of Australia's bigs, they did their job as expected in this match and in addition the punch was received on the perimeter by Mills, Brad Newley and David Barlow. Australia will be relying on that input in the Games to have a chance against the heavyweights.
A FEW WARNINGS
Skeets and co at Yahoo's Ball Don't Lie hosted a fun little live blog on the match, allowing us all to do a bit of hello sweet worlding about the relative merits of Luc Longley's surfing skills, the fact that Fosters is bottled in oil cans and whether we'd "like to go to a hip-hop club with [Andrea] Bargnani".
Boxscore for the match is here, courtesy of NBA.com.
Review of the match from a site I've not visited before called Soul Assassins (including a couple of great closeup pictures of Kobe v Nielsen).
SLAM giving some love to Patty Mills and Joe Ingles as potential future NBA stars, along with Ricky Rubio as players to watch in the Olympics.
The Melbourne Age's review of the match.
This Australian squad is Goorjian's best yet, as per the Melbourne Sun (which has been said ad nauseum in the leadup to these Games -- let's hope it's for real).
Kelly Dwyer's thoughts on where Team USA needs to smarten up.