After two blowout wins against Croatia and Slovenia, we started to wonder when the United States Men’s Basketball Team would see their first major test of the 2010 FIBA World Championship. Our questions were answered Monday, when the team from Brazil gave the Americans all they could handle in a thriller. After trailing for most of the game, Team USA used stifling defense in the second half to carry a 2-point lead into the fourth quarter and hung on to win by that exact margin.
The first quarter was a perfect storm of poor defense from the United States and lights-out shooting from the Brazilians. Led by the hot hand of Leandro Barbosa, Brazil knocked down 12 of its first 16 shots in the period, including its first four three-pointers. In fact, the only three-pointer missed by Brazil in the quarter was a last-second half-court heave from Barbosa at the buzzer. Brazil ended the first period with a 28-22 lead.
The second frame was much more of the same. Brazil was able to extend its lead to eight points early in the quarter, but rests for key players like Barbosa, Tiago Splitter and Alex Garcia allowed the Americans to cut into the lead. At several points in the quarter, the lead was reduced to a single point, but turnovers and lapses on defense allowed the Brazilians to maintain their lead. A late quarter dunk by Splitter sent Brazil into the locker room at halftime with a 46-43 lead.
Team USA started the third quarter with a little more of the intensity that we’ve come to expect from them. An 18-9 run put them up six points midway through the quarter. However, continued lackadaisical play on offense allowed Brazil to stay within striking distance. Barbosa, who struggled with his shot in the second half, managed to score the last four points of the period to pull Brazil within two.
Neither team could take full control of the game in the final period. The two teams were deadlocked with 7:14 left to play when a Lamar Odom dunk put Team USA up 64-62. They continued to trade buckets until Chauncey Billups missed a three-pointer with 13 second left on the clock. After Brazil rebounded the ball, Marcelo Huertas was fouled on a drive with just 3.5 seconds left to play. A conversion of both free throws would send the game to overtime, but Huertas missed the first. To give Brazil hope, he would need to intentionally miss the second and pray for a miracle. Huertas missed the free throw, tracked down the rebound and passed it to Barbosa, who missed a layup as time expired. Brazil’s monster effort had fallen short.
USA Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski described the game as a “character game.” Also commenting was starting point guard Derrick Rose, who called it an “eye opener.” When asked for his feelings on tough outing, Chauncey Billups said, “We came out victorious, but for the young guys, just know how thin of a line it is. Possessions, turnovers, things like that that we talk about,” he said. “Now they can see it.”
Leading the way for Team USA was Kevin Durant, who posted 27 points and 10 rebounds. Chauncey Billups followed with 15 of his own. On the Brazil side of the court, the all-around 14-point, 4-rebound, 4-assist and 4-steal effort of Leandro Barbosa led the way. Marcus Souza also poured in 16 points.
After a day off, Team USA will resume FIBA play against Iran on Wednesday.
images via USA Basketball