Yet another Longhorn wins an Olympic medal.
This morning, the USA mens' basketball team defeated Spain, 107-100, in their gold medal match. Texas ex Kevin Durant led the way for Team USA, scoring 30 points (8-18 from the floor, 9-10 from the line) while pulling down nine rebounds. LeBron James was excellent as well, with an efficient 19 points on 8-13 shooting, seven rebounds, and four assists. This was not an easy win for the Americans; Spain put up a fight. At times, Team USA had no answer for Pau Gasol, who seemed to be able to score at will on the block. Spanish guard Juan Carlos Navarro's outside shooting gave Spain a boost early on, helping the Spaniards keep pace with the hot shooting Americans.
This was not a game for fans of defensive basketball. Team USA scored 1.29 points per possession, while Spain scored 1.20 points per possession (*). But if you like three point shots -- and who does not -- then it was at times a very entertaining game. Team USA attempted over half of its field goal attempts from three point range, making 40% of these threes. Spain also shot well from long range, hitting 37% of its three point shots.
(*A quick note on points per possession. It is determined by taking the total number of points a team scores divided by the number of estimated possessions. I don't know the exact possession estimator formula for FIBA rules, so I am taking my best guess. It should be pretty close, but you might see slightly different numbers at different sites on the Internet. For the same reason, I am also taking my best guess for the true shooting percentage formula.)
Unfortunately, there were substantial portions of the game where the officials got in the way. Take the entire second quarter, for instance. Fouls basically killed the flow of the second quarter. Fouls also really hurt Spain's chances to win, as Marc Gasol strangely picked up his fourth foul midway through the second quarter. In limited minutes, the younger Gasol brother was terrific, scoring 17 points in 17 minutes on 8-10 shooting. But he wasn't much help to his team sitting on the bench with foul trouble.
In the end, Team USA's superior outside shooting was worth more than Spain's advantages inside. Although Spain was able to score from the low post, the Spaniards were not able to translate their size advantage into a rebounding advantage. The smaller Americans actually rebounded somewhat better than Spain, pulling down 33% of the available offensive rebounds. Spain only grabbed 27% of the available rebounds on offense. This small margin meant that Team USA ended up with three extra offensive rebounds.
Spain stayed so close by doing two things. The Spanish team didn't melt down in the face of Team USA's defense. Spain only turned the ball over in 13% of their possessions, and only had one extra turnover than Team USA. And Spain was very efficient with their shots, ending up with a true shooting percentage of 0.614. For those of you not oriented towards advanced basketball statistics, you will have to take my word for it -- that is very good. Of course, the USA was even better, with a true shooting percentage of 0.637.
A few more thoughts come after the jump.
This was not a great day for the Team USA defense. It comes as no surprise that the undersized Team USA struggled to guard the brothers Gasol. But what is surprising is just how much Tyson Chandler struggled defensively. Pau Gasol is really good with his back to the basket, and Chandler wasn't particularly effective when guarding Gasol without help.
On the other hand, Kevin Love at times did a very nice job on Pau Gasol, limiting easy shots at the rim. And Team USA did partly make up for their lack of post defense by limiting second chance shots, a way that Spain could have potentially really hurt the Americans.
In the first quarter, it seemed as if the American guards were just losing track of Navarro. Navarro knocked down three wide open three point shots. After the first quarter, Team USA put a stop to this, allowing Navarro to go 1-6 from three point range the rest of the game.
Spain's coaching staff made some questionable decisions. Leaving Marc Gasol on the floor in the second quarter to pick up his fourth foul was probably just an oversight. But it was a hell of an oversight -- it seems with as many coaches that these teams have, there ought to be someone who is able to keep track of fouls.
Leaving Gasol on the floor so long will be the most talked about odd move of the Spanish coaching staff, but it isn't their only strange decision. In the fourth quarter, LeBron James picked up his fourth foul and went to the bench. Shortly after, Spain switched to a box and one defense in an effort to slow down Kevin Durant. For those that don't know what a box and one is, it is simply a defense where one player plays man to man, and the rest of the team plays zone. It is often used as a way of slowing down a team with one particularly dangerous scorer.
I am not against "junk defenses." I think they have their place. For a few possessions here and there, junk defenses such as the box and one can be an effective way of throwing a different look at a team. It is hard to get away with this sort of defense for more than a few possessions against high level competition. Team USA clearly qualifies as high level competition.
Not only did Spain stay in the box and one for an extended period of time, but they did not switch out of it when LeBron James came back into the game. LeBron James is widely regarded as the best basketball player in the world. It seems very strange to play a box and one focused on someone other than James when he is in the game. The absurdity of this tactic was made clear with under three minutes left in the game. Kevin Durant, moving without the basketball, was picked up by two defenders. LeBron James -- the man with the basketball -- was left unguarded and ended up with an uncontested dunk to put Team USA up by eight.
And now, we are without basketball for a few months. Olympic basketball was a nice break from what is normally a long basketball-free summer. Now that break is over.