By: Sam Meyerkopf / @HoopLikeDrazen
For most people, having to wake up early in the morning and exercise is one of the hardest things to do. Waking up is hard enough. But with so many games to play, these Olympic basketball players start up around nine and have to be at their most golden from the tip. Getting up and watching hoops at four in the morning East Coast time for me is the equivalent of these guys getting after it on the court in the wee hours. Here are some observations on today’s early morning games after five cups of coffee and endless amounts of Wang Shipeng long range jumpers.
The first half was an offensive shootout that had one of the best rhythms of any game we’ve seen so far in this Olympics. Lithuania used their deep rotation to keep fresh, energetic bodies on the floor. They led by four at halftime, mostly brought on by a passionate 15 points from Marty Pocius. Pocius can usually get to the rim in a hurry but he was also hitting down his long distance shots and opened up a lots of different driving lanes for himself. France stayed neck and neck with Lithuania throughout the first period. Solid role efforts from Boris Diaw and Mickael Gelabale on offense allowed Tony Parker and Nicolas Batum to play pressure free ball.
The second half was an entirely different story. Lithuania came out of halftime flat and with poor chemistry. France started off attacking and never stopped. Batum was flying all over the court for blocks and fast break outlets. He constantly put stress on the defense as he flew down court for assaults on the basket. Defensively Batum had three blocks and two steals. He was hounding whomever he was guarding and often came over from the weak side to stuff a surprised Lithuanian wing.
With Parker (27 points) and Batum (21 points) playing this well, only three teams (USA, Spain, Russia) and maybe an on fire Argentina team, could slow them down today. Parker’s outside shot finally started falling and he penetrated easily against Lithuanian defenders. Diaw continued to work the ball around, finishing with eight assists and Nando de Colo helped Parker close the game with some fourth quarter jumpers.
Moving forward this Lithuanian team needs to figure out what their best rotation and lineups are and how to effectively use their big men. Hopefully some changes can effect Lithuanian’s really poor defensive showing today. Coach Kestutis Kemzura kept playing around with different lineups all game and still couldn’t put his button down on what was most effective. Jonas Valanciunas was rarely seen after committing two early fouls. He looked bouncy and confident on offensive early, but Kemzura never went back to him much and left many of us wondering what was going on. Antanas Kavaliauskas played some very active minutes in Valanciunas’ court absence.
Lithuania has an abundance of wings but doesn’t know exactly how to use them. Pocius had a monster first half but after getting blocked a few times in the second half, barely saw many minutes. The bench needs to be shortened so guys can get some rhythm. Klieza will no question be getting a bulk of time, but outside of him it seems Pocius, Simas Jasiatis, and Renaldas Seibutis might be the best options for helping out on both sides of the ball.
China came out of the gates red hot behind a furious shooting spree from Wang Shipeng. He couldn’t miss from deep and China finished up one after the first quarter. That was pretty much the high point for a Chinese team that had trouble doing anything else on offense. There was very little off ball movement and most guys couldn’t take their man off the bounce. Yi Jianlian was held in check by a variety of Australian defenders. With Yi unable to carry the team, three point shooting was their only tool to stay in the game. Wang finished with an impressive seven three pointers.
On the other side, Australia really looks to have ironed things out against the Chinese. The perimeter starting lineup of Matthew Dellavedova, Patty Mills, and Joe Ingles was a three-head attacking kangaroo. They released onto the fast break beautifully and absolutely pounded their Chinese defenders on the drive. They combined for 40 points and 14 assists. Possession after possession Mills and Ingles would either get out on the break or glide by their man for points in the paint. Even after countless misses and non-foul calls they kept going straight to the rim. It wasn’t always pretty but their determination was admirable.
The driving ability of Australia’s guards was the engine that drove this car today but the turbo boost was David Anderson. He took Yi to school on a number of plays with his sweet shooting ability. The guards opened up all sorts of space for Anderson to operate and that melody needs to continue for Australia to be successful.
This game should be a huge confidence boost for the Boomers. Going into a heated battle with Great Britain this weekend, they need to keep attacking. This squad is starting to meld together and with continued effort by Aron Baynes and Aleks Maric in the post, they even have a string of upset potential against Russia on Monday.