FIBA World Championship (August 19, 2006)

USA 111, Puerto Rico 100

August 19, 2006 / Sapporo, Japan

General Comments about the game:
Puerto Rico played really well, they shot the ball unbelievably well. I think for us it was important to get acclimated to this setting. You have to provide your own enthusiasm, the crowd is a big crowd but it is a quiet crowd.

Puerto Rico played their hearts out and gave us a great game. They shot the ball extremely well. I thought our guys did a good job of adjusting and we got good leads and never lost control of the game, but Puerto Rico never quit and that's to their credit, so we earned a hard fought win.

We have to understand that everybody that plays against us plays like they have nothing to loose. So you have to pressure their shots more because there is no pressure on them when they are shooting the ball. Puerto Rico made some big threes, that's the most threes we've given up. In the five exhibitions we hadn't given up that many open shots but today we did. I think it's a good thing to get adjusted, now lets get on to China.

What Puerto Rico did is they played the whole game with only one big guy so as a results we could not use all of our bigs.

Our guys had the game in control once that first quarter and a half was over. It was kind of like Las Vegas, Puerto Rico was ahead of us in the middle of the second quarter its very similar, except we had the crowd, we had energy and all that and we didn't have that today. We went on a couple of runs where we went up 18 points or 16, but there wasn't a crowd and that's what I mean about getting adjusted to the situation.

We're you surprised Puerto Rico gave you problems?
We're aware we can have problems with anybody. We respect everybody.

In the first period you yelled at the team, what was going through your mind?
We were ready to play because we respect them, but we needed to create energy. They were coming back in a zone and they played their tempo more so then our tempo and I wanted to just try and generate more energy so we could get a better tempo. They did a great job of controlling the tempo the whole game.

There was a stretch where you had three consecutive steals that led to points, can you talk about that and just assess your defense overall.
I think we played defense in spurts, but that had a lot to do with the fact that Puerto Rico had a number of good ball handlers in the game, and Carlos (Arroyo) is one of the best guards. They never lost control of the game where as some other team might have letup, they got stronger when adversity hit and I think that says a lot to their veteran play at the guard spot, they kept their team in it.


How did it feel to play in the opening game of this year’s World Championship?
It was great for us to get out there. Once again, it seems like we always bump into Puerto Rico, and I think we came out and took care of business like we’re supposed to. I think we were probably a little over-excited to be out there and finally starting the World games, but once we settled down, we were good.

How do you feel about tomorrow’s game (against China)?
Tomorrow’s game is going to be even tougher than today’s game. I think China was in the stands today scouting us, so it’s going to be tough. We just have to be prepared and go out there and play hard.

You gave up a lot of points, what do you think was good about your team’s defense?
I think from the second quarter on, our defense was good. The first quarter we gave them too many points. We let them score, we let them into the middle of the court a lot, but we sat down at the end of the first quarter and said if we wanted to win we were going to have to do it on the defensive end.

Was there any sense of panic in the first quarter?
No, there wasn’t any panic. We seem to start out like that sometimes, not making shots. Coach always tells us if we miss one shot, take the next shot, if you’re open shoot the ball. And that’s what we did. We’ve got 12 guys on this team who can make shots.

Did you ever have a ref hand you the ball when you weren’t in the game?
Never had that happen. I guess I just can’t seem to get the ball out my hands, huh?”

Is there a sense of relief with today’s win?
No, no, no. No relief. This is one game under our belt. Tomorrow we have another one. We have to put this game behind us and get ready to play China.”

General Comments:
I thought Puerto Rico shot the ball very well and put a lot of pressure on us. I thought we came out and responded well in the third quarter and we were able to open up a lead. Puerto Rico never gave up and they made things interesting in the fourth.

Puerto Rico played hard. They’re scrappy. They never gave up. And, they’ve got some guys that can hit shots.

On tomorrow’s game vs China:
Well, they are a different team than the one we saw in Guangzhou, with Yao and Wang playing. We expect them to play hard, like they played hard in Guangzhou. It will be another tough opponent.

On playing against Yao Ming:
It will be tough, knowing that I am playing against my future teammate. I know he’s going to try to beat me and I’m going to try to beat him, for now. When it comes to November, we’ll be together. Yao told me not to score too many points and save some points for Houston.

I think Yao is one of the very best players in the NBA. With Tracy McGrady, that is one of the best combinations in basketball. I’ll be excited to go there and play my hardest and try to make those guys better.

On the things he does in a game, some that often do not show up in a boxscore:
There are a bunch of small plays that end up becoming big plays. Small plays are not something that you can turn on and off. You have to do those things every chance you get. For me, that’s what I’ve been able to build a career out of. It turned out tonight to be a nice blocked shot. I was in the right place at the right time.

On his role with the team:
See these floor burns (showing fore-arm and obvious fresh floor burn), that’s my role.


On playing against Yao Ming:
We know what he’s capable of…know what he can do. There’s nothing that he’ll do that will surprise us.

On the close opening quarter:
Once we got together and starting playing better defense, we played a lot better. We have to talk about the things we didn’t do well. We know what we can do better.”


On the differences between the 2002 World Championship and this year:
I think this time, we have a team that can do it both offensively and defensively. The 2002 team, we just didn’t have the same balance, the same mix.

On the speed that the USA can display:
We like to play and up-tempo game. They sat back in a zone and we slowed it up a bit. Going forward, we’re going to work on playing our style of basketball.

On the team and coach reaction to this game vs. Puerto Rico:
I think the coaches are happy with a win. Of course, we’ve got to play better defensively, but a win is a win. I think we’ll grow and get better as the tournament goes on. We feel like we’re growing together and developing. We’re coming together. Tonight, we knew it was not going to be the same game as the exhibition.

On the USA matchup vs. China:
Tomorrow, we play China. We think they’ll be a whole different team than we played in the exhibition because of Yao and “Dodger” – Wang Zhizhi. They will be entirely different. I remember playing with Wang Zhizhi. He’s a good player, outside and inside, a good shooter. I look forward playing against him.

“We know Yao and Wang Zhizhi from the NBA. We have to make them do something different. We have to stop them from getting to their ‘sweet spots,’ the places that they can score easily.

On the ‘first’ game of the tournament and the pressure or jitters that it brings:
There were some jitters. Not much energy (in the building), not a lot of fans supporting us, so we have to bring a lot of energy on our own.”


General comments about the game:
Coming into the game we knew it would be a tough test playing Puerto Rico. They are a team that can really shoot it from the outside and they have a couple of guys inside who can score. We just wanted to come out and play our type of basketball. We didn't get off to the start we wanted to do, but we played well in stretches. Moving forward we're going to have to play more consistently and better for longer periods of time.

I think it overall it was just good to get out of the gate. We wanted to go out and play for real. We did an alright job. We played in spurts and we're going to have to play a lot better obviously as the tournament moves forward if we want to achieve what we want to achieve. Puerto Rico played a good game, their a scrappy team and we're happy to get the win.

What about the USA's depth, the U.S. seemed to get a good spark from a couple of different players in the game today:
That's what we're going to rely on I think as we get into our bench we should get a lot stronger. We feel like we have the best bench in this tournament, just use our depth, nobody pace themselves, just go out there and play hard for as long as they are out there and if we do that we should be alright.


About Sunday's game versus China:
China has Yao Ming this time, so it will be very different. We have to play hard. Just play basketball. Play good “D."


How did it feel to play for real finally?
There’s been a lot of preparation to get ready for the Worlds, but it paid off today. We got off to a slow start but we cranked it up in the second half, we were able to keep them in front of us and got the win. It doesn’t matter how many points you win by, as long as you get a win. It was important for us to come out and take care of business.

In the second half, you made a lineup switch and that seemed to help.
Well the three captains were in there together for the first time probably comfortably all game and with Chris Paul and Dwight (Howard), a young athletic big man, it seemed like that was the best lineup for us at that time. We were able to bump the lead up and get on a run and we took care of business.

It looked like it was a little hard for you guys to create your own energy with the subdued crowd today.
It’s human nature for us, when you’re used to playing in front of 20,000 or so people and then you come into atmosphere where you don’t have any, or very many fans and the crowd is a little dead. We usually feed off the crowd. But that’s our problem. We can’t get caught up with that. We have to create our own energy and we have to play well.

Crowds (outside the USA) kind of like to see the big dog go down. But guys took care of business. We tried to get the crowd into it, they got it into it a little bit in the third quarter and we just fed off of that.

How would you rate the team’s performance today?
It was pretty good. We could play a lot better on the defensive end. They made a lot of tough shots, got a lot of loose balls, hit a lot of threes. We have to play a little better on the defensive end, but offensively we have nothing to worry about. We know we can score, but defensively we have to play better.

Was team a little nervous at the start of the game?
I think guys were very anxious and a little jittery to get it started, so I think you saw us play less than we wanted to in the first quarter and a little into the second, but the start of the third we kept our composure and we started playing the way we like to play.

What broke the game open for you?
We finally played defense. We know that when we played them in Vegas it was going to be a totally different team here in Sapporo. We knew they were going to play more zone. We scored 57 points in the first half, but we gave up 51. Throughout our exhibition games we’ve been doing a great job of making it difficult for our opponents to score. They came out free willy and hit some tough shots and made some easy plays also. I think the thing that got us really going was our defensive effort.

Talk about the rah rah stuff from the players on the bench today
That’s what we have to do. When you play in venues like this where the crowd doesn’t get all that excited, you have to create your own excitement. We have to do a better job when everyone in the gym is going up against us. We just have the mentality that it’s the bench against the whole gym and we have to create some excitement for our teammates out there.


General Comments:
They scored a lot of points in the first half. Sometimes, we almost had a steal and just couldn’t get our hand completely on the ball. A few times they scored off of that kind of play. This team can shoot the ball. You leave them open for a second and they can hit it.

Our defense will get better as this tournament goes along. That will be our game. We’ve got guys that can get out to the open court. Once we can do that, we’re a pretty good ballclub. We’re not out here to trick anybody. We’re going to play aggressive defense.

On China:
Obviously, with Yao and Wang Zhizhi, they’ll be a better team. We’ve got to limit the big guys, but put a lot of pressure on the guards. They have smart, intelligent guards. They are not super fast or quick, but they’re smart. They know how to play the game. So, we’ve got to be smart and use what we have.”

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