Thursday, October 27, 2011

Pan-Am Games: USA 88, Brazil 77

This USA Basketball team seems something like a science experiment. The team has no true point guard, no reliable post threat, and had a mere two weeks to practice together before the competition. If you're interested in seeing what such a team looks like, be sure to tune in Friday night to its final pool play game against Uruguay. Let me warn you, however, that it's not always pretty. In fact, it usually isn't.

If you're wondering how such a team erased a 17-point third-quarter deficit to beat Brazil going away, well, I don't have a great answer for you.

Tactically, the U.S. went to a small three-guard lineup in the second half, with coach Nate Tibbets playing his reserve backcourt of Justin Dentmon and Blake Ahearn alongside starting "point" guard Jerome Dyson. The result was more movement on offense, and the main beneficiary was Ahearn. A deadly three-point shooter, Ahearn struggled with the ball in his hands against the Dominican Republic and in the first half against Brazil, but came alive off the ball in the final 15 minutes or so on Thursday, finishing with a game-high 21 points. Ahearn is too small to play off-guard at any sort of substantial professional level, but the Pan-Am Games are not such a level.

And that last point, more than anything else, is why the U.S. came away with a win. The U.S. team may not be constructed in a way that makes any sense, and they may not have any experience playing together. But in a tournament where most countries have brought their B teams, the U.S. -- even with a bunch of D-Leaguers -- has the more skilled, more athletic players. Tibbets had his guys turn up the defensive pressure and pick up the pace the way they did against the Dominican Republic, and Brazil didn't have the horses to keep up. The Samba Kings struggled to get good looks and rushed the ones they did get. The same sort of thing happened Wednesday night to the Dominican Republic, and Brazil doesn't have the calming influence of Jack Michael Martinez.

From a U.S. perspective, it would be nice to see the team take control of a game early, rather than scramble from behind in the second half. Uruguay, the weakest team in the four-team pool, presents a good opportunity for exactly that.

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