USA Defense Stymies Russia As Americans Roll To 89-68 Victory
After being led to victories in its first three games by a high octane offense that averaged 118 points a game, the USA Basketball Men’s Senior National Team (4-0) turned to good old hard-nosed defense to propel it to a 89-68 victory over Russia Sunday afternoon in Shanghai, China, and in front of a sold-out Qizhong Forest Arena crowd of 14,523. The win improved the USA’s pre-Olympic record to 4-0 overall, and 3-0 in the USA Basketball International Challenge.
Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers) led the American offensive effort with a game high 19 points, while Carmelo Anthony (Denver Nuggets) finished with 17 points and seven rebounds, and Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat) recorded 16 points.
“This was a really good game for us because Russia put the ball in the hands of their two best players (J.R.) Holden and (Andrey) Kirilenko and when they do that, they’re a really good team and a tough team to defend. I thought our defense was excellent and on offense we seemed a little bit out of synch. What I’m really pleased with is it didn’t come easy offensively for us and it never had a negative impact on our defense and tome that’s a really big thing,” said USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
“They’re a physical team, they’re a big team, they did a good job on the offensive boards which kept us out of the open court for a little bit. But in the second half I thought we did a much better job being the initiators and playing with a bit more energy, whether we scored the ball or whether we got a defensive rebound, we played with more energy and pushed the ball up the floor,” said Bryant.
The U.S. scored the game’s first five points and never trailed in Sunday’s game, although Russia did fight back to share the lead at 9-9 with 4:51 left in the first quarter.
But Wade helped launch an 8-1 run with a 3-pointer as the Americans cushioned their lead to 17-10. Leading
22-16 with 1:16 remaining in the opening period, the USA posted a 7-1 run that was capped by a Deron Williams (Utah Jazz) 3-pointer with :04 left that pushed the USA ahead 29-17.
The second period remained a physical battle and try as they might, Russia could not get the U.S. lead below eight. Getting five points from Wade, the USA posted a 7-3 run over the quarter’s final 3:15 and at halftime the U.S. had upped its advantage to 46-31.
With the USA leading 50-33 and 8:19 to play in the third quarter, Bryant, who was selected the Player of the Game by a media panel, scored the USA’s next 11 points on an assortment of dazzling moves, but still, with 3:34 left in the third, the USA lead stood at only 12, 61-49.
Russia cut the U.S. advantage to 10, 61-51, after a J.R. Holden hoop, but the red, white and blue finished out the quarter with a 10-0 run as Michael Redd (Milwaukee Bucks) drilled a pair of 3-pointers and Wade added a pair of baskets to leave the USA in charge 71-51 heading into the final 10 minutes.
“They had some gaps there and I just took advantage of them. The ball found me, and I was able to make them pay,” said Bryant of his 11-straight points. “In that kind of situation where the game is kind of see-sawing back and forth, we have so many weapons. It could be LeBron, it could be D-Wade, one of us is going to kick into high gear.”
LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers) was the fourth USA player to score in double figures after finishing with 10 points and six rebounds. Williams credited with nine assists to go with his five points, three rebounds and two steals.
The USA, which entered the game shooting a sizzling 66.2% from the field overall and 45.9 percent from 3-point, shot 57.1% from the floor versus Russia, and was a hot 53.8% (7-13 3pt FGs) from 3-point. Meanwhile, the USA defense forced Russia into 17 turnovers, and limited the defending European zone champ to 39.7% shooting from the field, including just 4-of-17 from 3-point.
“You’ve got to learn guys’ tendencies and get used to guys, but it’s pretty easy with this group because they all know how to play the game, they all know how to move without the ball, and so it’s pretty easy to find someone out there,” admitted Williams who leads the team in assists after four games averaging 6.25 assists a game.
“Tonight, I thought Chris Bosh played a great game. Chris’ defense away from the basket is outstanding. I think it’s been one of our strong points,” stated Krzyzewski. “When I look at Chris’ performance a lot of it isn’t going to show up in the stats except the fact that they got 68 points and Chris Bosh had a lot to do with that. As a coach you can’t just judge this (the box score) you’ve got to judge what you see and what’s happening out on the court.”
“We have so many talented offensive guys I’m really not worried about offense, I feel I can help this team on defense being active, getting my hands on some deflections, rebounding the basketball and running the floor,” said Bosh. “Defense is very important to this team because we’re not going to shoot the ball well every day and we can’t let our offense dictate how the game is going to go, we have to let our defense dictate that.”
Russia was paced by Utah Jazz standout Andrei Kirilenko's 18 points, while American J.R. Holden, who played at Bucknell University, added 17points.