USA Men Overcome Shooting Woes To Overpower Venezuela 80-45
The Olympics may be just around the corner for the talented USA Basketball Men's Nationl Team, but head coach Mike Krzyzewski, his staff and his players know that the team still has much work to do if it wants to go Rio de Janeiro in top form.
The USA took on Venezuela Friday night at the United Center in front of a sold-out crowd numbering 20,578, and came away with a convincing 80-45 triumph. But despite the margin of victory, the U.S. team is anything but a smooth functioning unit at this point as the team struggled to shoot the ball consistently against the overmatched Venezuelans.
"I want to thank all our fans here in Chicago and at the United Center. Great crowd, unbelievable atmosphere. It was a warm reception the entire time we’ve been here. They guys feel it, and we are very much appreciative," said Krzyzewski. "Tonight, I thought Venezuela played very hard against us. They did something that we need to be ready for, that is, they make you play defense for 20 seconds on every exchange. They are trying to take away more possessions, and trying to take time off the clock. It was that type of game..
"Obviously we didn't hit shots or complete plays as well as we could, but you have to give them credit for that. The way they tried to use the tempo of the game. They’re very smart and very well coached. I’m proud of my team. We played hard for 40 minutes. We’re playing defense right to the very end. That is what I am looking for. The fact that the ball wasn't going in, and they were playing good defense against us didn’t stop us from giving a really quality effort, especially on the boards and the defensive end."
Carmelo Anthony, who may be one of the team’s go-to shooters in Rio next month, struggled finding his range on the floor. Anthony made just 2-of-10 shots from the floor and missed all four of his shots from beyond the arc. Anthony finished with seven points, and added nine rebounds, one assist, one blocked shots and one steal.
Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler, who earned a starting role, also had a rough day on his home court. He made his first shot of the night when he hit a long jumper and he also brought the crowd to its feet when he finished off a volleyball series of taps by the USA and slammed home a spectacular dunk on his last shot of the game. However, Butler missed the six shots he took between those two and finished with four points, while securing eight rebounds.
While the USA struggled from the field as it connected on just 28 of 66 shots from the field and finished a forgettable 4-of-25 from beyond the arc, the hustle, hard work and defensive presence was in evidence throughout the 40-minute game.
Kevin Durant liked the way his team competed even if the shooting was a problem. “No, we didn’t score well tonight,” Durant said. “But we played great defense.
“Our shots did not go in, but we got great penetration and we are not lacking in any area. Coach is not going to scream because our shots didn’t go in. They will go in in the future. Our key was the defense and the chemistry. We love playing together.”
The hard-working Venezuelan team struggled to get open shots throughout the game as the Americans were constantly deflecting passes, winning the battle for loose balls and contesting nearly every shot. The USA held Venezuela to 16-of-67 shooting, and while the visitors were badly overmatched when it came to overall talent, their effort was there but they just could not get decent looks.
The red, white and blue took charge of this game in the second quarter with a powerful defensive showing that limited Venezuela to six points. Krzyzewski’s team led 20-12 at the end of the first quarter, and that margin grew to 36-18 by halftime.
While the Americans clearly have a lot of work to do to find a more consistent attack, Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson provided the most consistent offensive performances. Both players scored 13 points, as Irving made 4-of-7 shots from the field, 1-of-2 from beyond the arc and all four of his free throws. Unlike most of his teammates, Irving looked comfortable on the floor throughout the night.
Thompson made 5-of-10 shots from the field and 3-of-7 from beyond the arc. He also made a strong showing with his defensive performance as he locked up on Venezuela’s leading scorer John Cox, who was the only member of his team to reach double figures with 14 points.
The USA also showed off its power option at various points in the game with DeMarcus Cousins and DeAndre Jordan. While Jordan tallied eight points and Cousins added seven, the USA's big men had spectacular dunks during the game that brought the sellout crowd to its feet.
The American squad dominated Venezuela on the glass to the tune of 54-29, while Jordan and Cousins combined for 18 rebounds, with Cousins snagging a game-high 12 and Jordan adding six more.
The ability of Cousins and Jordan to establish themselves down low, control the ball and finish off the play with power dunks could give the USA a powerful option when the Olympics begin in Rio. If Krzyzewski and his staff can get consistent scoring down low to complement Durant, Thompson, Anthony and Butler, the USA may be on its way to a third-straigh gold medal in Olympic men's basketball.