Sunday, August 10, 2008

Olympic Mens Basketall Day 1

Random thoughts:
-Olympic Basketball Games don’t have endless TV timeouts!
-Does anybody else miss the NBA on NBC music? This stuff is great.
-The horn when you check in and out of Olympic basketball games is really obnoxious.
-The Olympic Basketball courts have benches by the scorer’s table for players that are about to check in. No more sitting on the floor!

Recap of early games

Germany defeated Angola: Angola reminds me of a solid mid-major team. The tallest player is about 6’8”, but they play as a team. If a team has a cold shooting night against them, they can pull an upset.

Russia defeated Iran: Iran on the other hand will definitely surprise me if they win.

Croatia defeated Australia: Yawn

Spain defeated Greece: Greece has a couple of exceptional guards in Dimitris Diamantidis and Vasileious Spanoulis. (Oddly, as I stare at the ESPN boxscore, it lists them as a Forward and a Center despite the fact they are both under 6’5”. Hey ESPN you might want to fix that.) Anyhow, other than a few nice drives to the basket by those two guards, Greece didn’t seem to have a lot of energy against Spain. Allow me to paraphrase one of the announcers. “Hey, Greece is on the Mediterranean. Who wants to work hard? Josh Childress signed a contract in Greece not only because the Euro is much stronger than the US dollar, but because they only play 1/3rd as many games as the NBA. It’s a good life.”

Lithuania vs Argentina

A few thoughts on what turned out to be the most entertaining game of the first day:
-A player on Argentina was called for an intentional foul at half-court, despite the fact that there was no fast-break opportunity. I guess he didn’t go for the ball.
-At one point, four players stepped into the lane before a free throw was taken and yet there was no lane violation.
-Lithuania committed a shot clock violation and its players stopped moving, but Argentina picked up the ball and ran down for an uncontested lay-up.

Ah, the vagaries of international basketball. The announcers described Olympic refereeing as “wildly inconsistent”. But apparently it is “better” than it used to be. There are now 3 referees instead of 2. Of course, they are all from different countries and have completely different interpretations of what a foul is.

First half: The refs swallowed their whistles and as a result we got a very physical half with horrible shooting percentages, particularly in the first quarter. I loved the scrappy defensive effort, especially since the fans were definitely into this game, but I’m not going to argue with the people who thought this game was ugly early.

They showed Manu Ginobili sitting on the bench with his coach giving him instructions. He had this look like: I’ve won 3 NBA titles, an Italian league title, and an Olympic Gold Medal. Why are you talking to me?

Second half: Both teams scored 50 points in final 23 minutes so things definitely picked up. Lithuania built a 12 point lead with 6 minutes to go, partly because Scola was in foul trouble and Ginobili was resting on the bench.

At about the 5 minute mark, the pace of the game quickened and Argentina took control. With the exception of two vital threes from Lithuania’s Linus Kleiza, Argentina went on a huge run, including threes by Ginobili and Nocioni. An eventual 11-0 run by Argentina tied the game with 90 seconds remaining.

With one minute left, Nocioni missed a three that would have given Argentina the lead. At 25 seconds left, Ginobili was fouled (but it wasn’t called), and then he missed a jumper.

With 2 seconds left, Linus Kleiza hit a three pointer that turned out to be the game winner for Lithuania. This was an absolutely terrific game.

As indicated in my mini-Olympic preview from a few weeks ago, these were the two favored teams in Group A, and they delivered. Argentina should still be strong enough to wins its remaining games. The key for both teams is to finish in the top 2 and avoid playing the US or Spain in the quarters.

US vs China

OK, now it is time to live blog the US vs China.

Yao makes a three pointer for the first points of the game. China isn’t going to win, but at least the Chinese fans will have that as an Olympic memory.

After a beautiful pass inside to Dwight Howard, I am quickly reminded what phenomenal passers the US has in its starting lineup.

Early play of the game: It is 2 on 1 for China, and the US player slips leaving the lane wide open for a lay-up. Suddenly LeBron James comes out of nowhere to block the ball. Awesome.

Hey look, a motivated Dwayne Wade.

China is absolutely on fire from 3 point range.

Anthony has got to stop taking 3’s. This is the only way the US loses.

Hard to believe China is in the game given how many fade away jumpers they’ve taken.

LeBron James with another sick block at the start of the 2nd quarter. His two blocks have absolutely defined this game.

You know, for players like Kevin Garnett and LeBron James, the true utility players of the NBA, the Olympic Games really are the ultimate showcase for their versatility. Garnett may not be on the team anymore, but LeBron absolutely shines in this situation. LeBron can dominate the game on defense, and when he is called upon on the offensive side of the court, he can do everything. He can handle the ball, make the pass into the post, receive the pass in the post and finish.

On the flip side, players like Chris Paul and Deron Williams who are absolutely vital to winning teams in the NBA sit in the background at the Olympic games. Speaking for Deron, he dominates by having the ball in his hand and cerebrally breaking down a defense. But in the Olympics, you just aren’t going to have the ball in your hands often enough to shine.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that if I’m a GM in the NBA, I’d have a tough time choosing between LeBron James and Chris Paul. But in the Olympics, there’s no question. LeBron is clearly the best player.

Huge inside bucket by Yao Ming in the half-court. The margin was starting to get dangerous for the Chinese.

Chen Jianghua, the 19 year old back-up point guard for China is really playing well. He hits another 3 and we’re tied at 29.

Hey remember what I was saying about Anthony taking 3’s. The same might be said about Deron Williams right now.

The US just needs to stay out of the half-court game. The starters are back in for the US and a string of steals has given them a lead. China answers with a 3 to stay close at 35-32.

Alley-oop, Kobe to Lebron James, and the US leads by 9. Another steal, Kobe to LeBron, no good, but Kobe dunks it himself.

This is sick. Jason Kidd, full court cherry-picking to Chris Bosh despite China having 3 guys back. The US is on fire 47-34.

The US was 1 of 12 from three-point range in the first half. (Kobe hit the only three.) China was 8 of 16 from three-point range in the first half. And the US still leads by 12.

Yi Jilian with a sick dunk over Carmelo Anthony to start the second half. Yao Ming had missed a wide open three and Ji Yilian took advantage of the international goal-tending rules to slam it home off the cylinder. Carmelo is not having a good day.

The US is rolling now and I’m quickly losing interest.

Deron Williams just tried to dunk on Yao Ming but came up short. Nice try Deron. A few minutes later Deron drives on Yao. Deron draws the foul but Yao gives him a smile as he swats the ball away. Yeah, I’m stretching for something interesting to talk about at this point.

And the US scores over 100 and picks up the easy victory. LeBron James was clearly the MVP based on his defensive play, but Kobe Bryant played well too. Carmelo Anthony had probably the worst game of any US player, but he’ll have plenty of opportunities to bounce back. The next game for the US is against Angola.

Monday Night

Iran vs Lithuania: Lithuania is now the favorite in Group A.

Croatia vs Russia: I haven’t seen Croatia, but from what I’ve read, they seem to be playing well lately. This could be a good game.

Watch the Replay Monday Overnight

Greece vs Germany: This is a key game. Both teams have the talent to advance out of pool play, but a loss here could make that difficult.

China vs Spain: China could easily start 0-2. Starting with the US and Spain is as tough as it gets.

Tuesday Morning

Angola vs US: Yawn.

Argentina vs Australia: Key game for Argentina who wants to avoid going 0-2. They should have enough talent to beat Australia but it should be interesting.