Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Americans Win Big, Starters Embarrass Themselves

When Coach Mike Krzyzewski exchanged all five starters for five bench players late in the first quarter, Tunisia was actually winning. Tunisia deserved credit for playing well, but make no mistake, this is not a good team. Tunisia struggled mightily in their first game against Nigeria, not exactly a basketball powerhouse themselves.

Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Lebron James, and Tyson Chandler all deserve loads of criticism for the team's poor start. Teams can have an off night. If the U.S. loses, so be it. But the lack of energy those five men showed in the first quarter was an embarrassment to themselves, their teammates, their coach, and the country they represent. Paul deserves blame as the point guard, LeBron as the leader, Bryant as the veteran presence, and Chandler as the defensive leader. Durant treated things as if it was a pick up game, arrogantly chucking up threes even when the lane was open.

James redeemed himself a bit in the second and Durant played better and with more energy in the third. Bryant played 9 sluggish minutes in all. Chandler gave up repeated easy buckets down low and offensive rebounds and didn't look like he belonged even in the Tunisian Basketball League. Makhram Ben Romdhane had 22 points, many of them easy buckets, and 11 boards (5 offensive). Salah Mejri was a force down low with 7 rebounds (3 offensive) and at least 2 blocks. Paul's head wasn't in the game. On two separate occasions in the first half, he allowed the ball to roll, waiting to touch it, after it was in bounded. But this is international basketball, so the clock ran regardless. Marouan Kechrid badly outplayed Paul in the first half.

As much criticism as the starters deserve, the bench deserves even more praise. Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, Andre Iguodala, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Love were responsible for just about all of the U.S.'s 13 point halftime lead. They did it with pressure defense, transition offense, and a desire to work the ball into the paint.

The same fivesome began the second half on the floor and that's when the game got ugly. The U.S. dominated Tunisia in the third quarter, 39-14. Westbrook and Iguodala each had memorable dunks. When Love banged a knee, Anthony Davis came in and played well. He accrued five lob dunks in his brief stint out on the floor.

The final score was lopsided, but it was almost completely due to the stellar play of the U.S.'s bench. The U.S. won 110-63. The starters will need to show more pride and more heart in their next game against Nigeria, or face a similar backlash.

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