USA Building Defensive Identity, Beating China 106-57
- LOS ANGELES
Shooting comes and goes. What encouraged USA Men’s National Team head coach Mike Krzyzewski more than anything Sunday night at STAPLES Center is his team’s defense doesn’t appear to ebb and flow with those offensive peaks and valleys.
Despite posting only four points more than halfway through the first quarter, the USA never trailed against China, relying on defense to buy time until USA’s gifted outside shooters started seeing their shots fall in an eventual 106-57 rout.
“This group has been a fabulous group to coach,” Krzyzewski said. “None of the teams we’ve coached have worked harder defensively than this team. I’m not saying we didn’t play hard, but this team is really playing hard. It’s fun to watch.”
Krzyzewski said he wants his players to be able to play with everyone, so he switched up the starting lineup Sunday from the USA’s first exhibition game. DeAndre Jordan set the tone defensively, earning a start in front of his home fans and blocking China’s first shot of the game, then finishing an alley-oop from Kyle Lowry on the other end.
Even as the offense stalled early, the U.S. never trailed, relying on their defense to limit China to just 13 points in the first quarter and nine in the third.
“I think defensively, we really showed what we’re capable of,” said Paul George. “We’re so talented. We’ve got so much depth. We can throw anybody in the lineup and we’re going to carry out the job. It’s a luxury that we can play around and have these exhibition games to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
The minute Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson entered the game late in the first quarter, the offensive misfortunes turned around. The USA scored 19 points in the final four minutes of the first quarter, with Thompson and Durant combining for 12 points in fewer than five minutes of action in the quarter.
“Sometimes when you’re not scoring, you don’t play defense,” Krzyzewski said. “That’s the cool thing today, is that we didn’t score right away, but we played really good defense…Then KD and Klay come in and boom, boom, boom, it was there.”
With the ball movement USA showed, posting assists on seven of their first eight made baskets in the first quarter, a close matchup suddenly became a comfortable double-digit lead.
China had no answer inside for Jordan and DeMarcus Cousins, who combined for 24 points and 12 rebounds. Once Durant and Thompson got going, hitting four 3-pointers apiece on the night, China had little chance. The USA continued to find the open man and make the extra pass, finishing with 20 more assists than China while forcing 26 turnovers.
“We really played hard and we shared the ball well,” Krzyzewski said. “To have 29 assists on 41 buckets… we should have won, but the way we won was excellent.”
George didn’t have his stroke offensively, but he helped lead the defensive effort with three steals. Nights such as Sunday help Krzyzewski understand what he can do with his personnel as he continues to learn the tendencies of each player.
“One thing we did today was we used Paul at the point, and his ball pressure was amazing,” Krzyzewski said. “He and Klay, I’m trying to learn a little bit more about them. Not that Paul would start at the point, but even if he’s in with Kyrie (Irving), maybe he takes the point, stuff like that. We’re trying to figure that out. Our switching, because we have so many versatile players, I think is going to be a real strength for us.”
Especially when the tenacity on those switches stay as consistent as it did Sunday.
The effort and competitiveness never slipped on either end, regardless of the score. Team USA stayed engaged, not getting flustered early but also getting animated after every possession late, with the game already out of reach.
“A lot of guys on the team have a lot to prove,” Jordan said. “It’s a huge honor to be representing your country. I’ve dreamt about this since I was a kid, watching the Dream Team, watching guys like that. It’s amazing to be a part, especially with a great group of guys like this.
Irving said the players on the U.S. squad have already built “unique relationships” in a short time, and he liked how close everyone has already become. That development is almost tangible to Krzyzewski.
“We’re really growing together as a group well,” Krzyzewski said. “I want to keep that going.”
Back At Home
While Sunday night was a homecoming for Jordan, who got a nice ovation and addressed the crowd before the game at STAPLES Center, it was also a homecoming of sorts for DeMar DeRozan, Klay Thompson and Paul George, who grew up in the L.A. area.
“Being able to play in front of family and friends is a pretty cool feeling,” DeRozan said. “Having the opportunity to represent with the USA jersey is a really special feeling for me.”
The USA men will play China again July 26 (7 p.m. PDT) at Oracle Arena in Oakland. The game will be televised by NBA TV and streamed live on Facebook. While Draymond Green and Klay Thompson will be playing in their NBA home arena, for new Golden State Warriors addition Kevin Durant, it will be his first appearance in Oracle since signing with Golden State.