By: Rob Scott / @robscott33
Great Britain succumbed to an 118-78 defeat against the might of the United States in Manchester. The margin of victory wasn’t necessarily surprising, and reflected the athletic dominance of the American team, but Great Britain fought tenaciously in the first half at least, and can take some positives out of the game. Certainly, they can take more positives than most teams on the wrong side of a forty point defeat.
Strong start for GB
The game opened with Pops Mensah-Bonsu stuffing a Tyson Chandler alley oop attempt and a Joel Freeland lay-up in transition. Could the US live with the prowess of Besiktas’ finest under the rim, and the ability of the GB bigs to run the floor? Yes. Yes, they could. Kevin Durant missed a couple threes but also inspired the first roar from the arena as he drove baseline past Deng for the jam. The Manchester crowd had greeted Kobe Bryant and Lebron James with delirious cheers, matched only by Luol Deng on the ‘home’ team. It was clear that the majority of the 17,500 crowd had come to be entertained by highlight reel plays, no matter who made them. Deron Williams followed Durant’s slam with the first of five three pointers from six attempts and GB never led after that.
Full court pressure
The problem Great Britain had was a fundamental one. When the Americans decided they wouldn’t let them advance the ball over half court, they couldn’t. Nate Reinking has never played against anyone like Russell Westbrook. This is just a fact. He won’t play against anyone with the athletic prowess of the Oklahoma City Thunder star. Andrew Lawrence suffered as much as any of his teammates with on-ball pressure, but he stepped onto the floor in the first quarter, slipped a crossover on Deron Williams and found Reinking in the corner for three. The confidence of the College of Charleston junior visibly rose as the game continued. The next play, Williams picked his pocket and forced the foul. Any time GB tried to exert any influence on the game, the US responded.
Tyson Chandler swatted a Lawrence layup into stand and yelled at the folks in the good seats. GB responded by transition dunks by Mensah-Bonsu, Deng and Durant exchanged threes, but the Americans were beginning to lay down some ominous markers in case the home team thought this might actually stay a contest for much longer.
GB coach Chris Finch tried a 2-3 zone midway through the first quarter but it didn’t have much impact. Britain trailed 23-20 towards the end of the first period but either side of the break the US went on a 17-0 run as the American pressure defence on the ball, led by Russell Westbrook, began to bite down hard.
The last time in the game the home team actually had an impact on the game came in the second quarter as a Deng transition layup and a three from Dan Clark sparked a 10-2 run from the British team brought the score back to 39-30 in favour of the US team. The game became incoherent and scrappy as the US earned their points from the line and led 55-37 at the half on a 16-7 tear.
Threes on threes
The third quarter quickly slipped away from the British and the game effectively became a contest between the US players for bragging rights in the hotel. If any of the Americans’ wives and girlfriends are reading, that’s not what I mean. Joel Freeland, suffering from both a lack of post feeds and an apparent lack of urgency, did manage to at least post up Deron Williams. The Brooklyn Nets’ new franchise player responded by gliding over Freeland for a layup and then hitting back to back to back threes. The US led 66-41 and very quickly the game was over as a contest.
Fourth quarter block party
From then on out, the game followed a familiar pattern. Great Britain turned the ball over, usually as a result of quick hands and long arms in the paint or at halfcourt by the US, followed by a transition dunk at the other end. The fourth quarter belonged to Anthony Davis. The number one pick in the draft blocked four shots, roaming the paint at the back of a 2-3 zone, and finished with 11 points, all on dunks.
GB captain Andrew Sullivan only entered the game midway through the fourth quarter but quickly put up 11 points, including three for three from behind the arc. The GB team trailed by 45 at one point, and the score accurately reflected the way the US had run the British team off the floor, literally at times as they sprawled on the hardwood trying to keep hold of the ball on their own possessions. The crowd by this point was simply waiting for the dunks and blocks from the US team. It was a British crowd perhaps unused to the ebb and flow of a basketball game, and between high impact possessions it was possible to hear individuals in the stands, usually shouting for the USA. When James Harden dribbled out the final possession, the crowd rose in appreciation of something they knew they wouldn’t see every day. Those with Olympic tickets have this all to look forward to again.
What can Great Britain take from this game?
There is nothing in the world like this American team, and now they know what it’s like to take punches from the best on the planet. Guys like Kyle Johnson, Andrew Lawrence and Andrew Sullivan need to make open threes when they have them, and they did that. GB actually tried to move the ball on the inside more than against Portugal, but there won’t be the length and quick hands to knock away those passes to Deng and Pops cutting baseline against the likes of China. At least, hopefully not, from a British point of view.
After the game, ELA asked Chris Finch whether he had a clear idea of the rotation for the first Olympic game against Russia. He was keen to stress the team could play big or small, but playing bigger against a team like the USA, with wings who can play the four, palying big caused matchup problems. This was obvious when James was able to easily contain Joel Freeland in the post. It’s clear that the British backcourt is weak, and playing Deng at the off guard spot could cover up the lack of height and quality, but expecting Dan Clark to play as a small forward against opponents this quick was plain cruel. This experiment may not last much longer.
What can the USA take from this game?
Honestly, not a lot. Coach K doesn’t really have them run sets, as such. They recorded 39 assists on 47 made field goals, but everything was based on perimeter isolation plays followed by sharp ball movement as the defence attempted to rotate. A perceived weakness of this team was outside shooting, but Williams shot 5/6 from downtown, Anthony 3/5. It’s true that better teams will be able to close out to those shooters, but if the US needed to get in to a rhythm from outside, they did it tonight. Their next two games against Argentina and Spain will offer much more of a marker for how far along in their preparation Mike Krzyzewksi’s team really is.