Heading into the elimination round at the 2010 FIBA World Championships, Team USA was forced to answer questions concerning the consistency of their play against subpar opponents and about their starting rotation. At times in group play, the Americans seemed lax, frequently letting teams hang around in the first half before the defense would tighten up in the second frame. All but one of their games turned out to be decisive wins, however, with Brazil giving them their hardest test in the tournament as yet.
After completing play in Group B with a perfect 5-0 the major question being circled around Team USA was whether Eric Gordon should enter the starting lineup at shooting guard instead of Chauncey Billups. Gordon’s performance in group play and especially against Tunisia, when he scored 21 points in the final game of the preliminary round, coming off the bench he was consistent and timely save for the game against Brazil. That is something that is not usually said regarding a member of the Los Angeles Clippers. Gordon, however, is not your usual Clipper. In group play Gordon shot 50 percent total from the floor while averaging 10.2 points in 18.4 minutes off the bench.
Despite calls from outside for Gordon to start for Team USA, these suggestions were based solely on the fact that it is early September and there is not much going on in terms of NBA news, coach Mike Krzyzewski kept his starting unit intact and made no changes heading into the elimination round against Angola, Africa’s best national basketball team. Despite constantly being the best team on their continent, the Angolans have never fared well when facing the Americans. Each time the teams have faced each other in Olympic play, since 1992, the United States has come out on top in a rout. The first game of the elimination round would end no differently.
Team USA crushed the Angolans by dominating almost every aspect of the game on their way to a 121-66 molly whopping. Maybe FIBA should consider a mercy rule. Billups proved why coach Krzyzewski should keep him in the starting lineup by scoring 16 first half points on route to 19 for the game, pacing the team. Gordon had another strong game as well, scoring 17 points and going 5-6 from beyond the arc. Kevin Durant, the most consistent scorer on Team USA continues his strong play on his way to 17 points and five rebounds. Further, Kevin Love continues to be Team USA’s secret weapon as he gathered in six rebounds and scored eight points, three of which came from his lone shot from downtown (Can the arc in FIBA be considered ‘downtown as it is so much closer than the one in the NBA?), in only 15 minutes of action.
Love has been the most efficient player on Team USA’s roster and, outside of Durant, has been the model of consistency on the team. Yet again, the game against Brazil is the only blemish to an otherwise remarkable overall performance. In the six games that Team USA has played thus far, Love has averaged 55.35 percent field goal shooting and 50 percent from behind the arc while averaging 7.5 points per contest. As of September 2, Love was third in offensive efficiency behind Rudy Gay and Durant, with at rating of 121.1. He has also pulled down 6.5 rebounds per game and has done all of this while averaging just 11.16 minutes of playing time. His rebounds per 40 minutes, as of September 2, paced the team at an average of 25.8 rebounds. That is more than double the next player on the US roster, Lamar Odom, who averages 12.5.
Team USA dominated the glass totaling 48 rebounds, 21 offensive, compared to only 23 rebounds for the Angolans. The US also had 30 assists and 10 steals contrasted by Angola’s 12 and zero, respectively. Transition buckets came often and easily for Team USA.
By beating Angola the US has advanced to the field of eight. Next on the plate for Team USA is Russia on Thursday September 9. Russia is led by Timofey Mozgov, who was acquired by the Knicks this summer. The Cold War may be over but the rivalry between these countries is still strong. If Team USA focuses like it did against Angola, they should be well on their way to continuing to advance at the world championships.