The scoreline reflected the dominance the USA enjoyed in possession but this was a far from polished performance by Coach K’s troops, writes Emmet Ryan.
The Slovenian fans wanted the USA to know whose house they were in from the top, booing when the Americans won the opening tip and on the first few possessions for the Americans. The Palau Sant Jordi, while architecturally a delight, doesn’t carry sound well but the Slovenias were still able to get their message across loud and clear.
Kenneth Faried, who had come out hard in every game, finally had a game where his engine would be truly appreciated. The Denver Nugget got off to a flying start, abusing Slovenia on the interior. There was however ample variety in the Slovenian attack and the rest of the US team looked sluggish in the early going. Anthony Davis stepped up to provide support as they quickly overcame an early deficit. The first string of USA changes saw DeMarcus Cousins and Derrick Rose enter the fray, bringing with them an extra dash of energy. A flying dunk from Faried pushed the lead to 5, as the Americans dominated possession in the early going. The lead was growing but their play lacked a clinical touch, opening 6 of 24 from the floor. Inaccurate as Coach K’s charges were, they had twice as much of the ball as their opponents and that put them in charge end the end of the first with a 29-22 lead.
Slovenia kept fighting gamely but they couldn’t afford any mistakes. Davis took advantage of a turnover, comfortably lobbing in to Faried for the dunk. Leading 37-26, the USA already had 16 points from turnovers. Rose continued to play with fire when he was on the floor. Throughout the Bilbao campaign, he had hunger but looked terribly off. The first half saw Rose drive and make three lay-ups as he gobbled up the open floor. His decision making was still off but this was a different Rose who frustrated throughout group play.
Having made 14 offensive boards in the first frame, the USA’s tenacity on the opposing glass dropped while their shooting remained poor. Rudy Gay settled the ship from deep but this was a frustrating 20 minutes of basketball. For all the energy the USA had on the floor, they were failing to make it count on the scoreboard. Living off scraps, Slovenia were staying in this game and still held more than a puncher’s chance facing a 7 point deficit at the break.
The USA stepped up a gear to start the third, moving 13 points in front on the back of a Davis dunk. It was moving time for Slovenia, this was not the time to allow the USA to push ahead. The Dragic brothers did their part to stem the tide but James Harden, who opened the game 0 of 9 from the field, pushed the USA further in front with a three point play.
It was however Davis and Faried’s show, both recording double-doubles with plenty of time left in the third. When the USA stuttered in Bilbao, it was this pair who carried them through and once more they were stepping up to swat away another foe. Faried finished off another alley-oop, this time from a casual delivery by Harden, and the game was effectively in the books. An 18 point lead and a date with Lithuania awaiting them. The game got a little testy and the USA brought Boogie back in to counter. With 10 minutes to play, this one was in the bag for the USA with an 86-64 lead.
Rose was enjoying himself at this stage, swatting the ball from Uros Slokar’s grasp and running the floor to set up Boogie for the dunk. Turnovers and fast breaks continued to be the source of the USA’s commanding lead, an area that will surely be of concern to the American brain trust who know the danger of relying on the errors of others. The final margin of 43 points reflected the USA’s dominance but there is still a lot of work to do.
Slovenia worked with what they got in this game but it wasn’t an awful lot. Their lack of strength on the inside was always going to be an issue and Faried and Davis made them pay. Save for the big duo and Rose’s extra spark, which was still far from the type of performance we’ve been looking for from him in Spain, it was a frustrating evening for the USA. They got the W but were as error strewn as at any stage in Bilbao. Lithuania are unlikely to make them pay on Wednesday night but it is still cause for concern with regards the primary objective; retaining the Naismith Trophy.