Team USA got a message Saturday night in Madrid. Winning the World Championships in Turkey will take a lot more than just out-talenting a slew of competitors.
Prior to Saturday, Team USA hadn’t had many problems in their contests against international opponents, easily disposing of China and France in two exhibitions last weekend in New York City. It was a different story a week later, though, as Lithuania gave the Americans a run for their money in the first half.
Without the Olympian superstars like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, and the rest, this year’s national team is overwhelmingly devoid of players with notable international experience, and that shined through on Saturday.
Team USA was not expecting Lithuania’s physicality, as players repeatedly took beatings as they drove the lane, which forced them to settle for jumpshots that did not fall in the first half. It was the first time that the lack of depth up front for the U.S. was truly an issue, as the Lithuanian bigs bruised and battered the Team USA guards.
But it wasn’t just an insufficient interior presence that caused problems. The team appeared to lack chemistry, often turning the ball over unnecessarily and making bad decisions. Furthermore, there were environmental problems. The floor seemed oddly slippery, causing problems for the quick USA guards. In addition, the rim seemed less generous than Ebenezer Scrooge at Christmas time — at least in the first half.
In the second half, Team USA swept Lithuania under the rug, in part thanks to a 17-0 run but more because the coach of Lithuania wanted to save its offensive plays and sets for the games that are going to count.
Even though Team USA didn’t lose, the struggles in the first half were an important milestone in the development of this team. For a bunch of players who haven’t played together that long, this helps to reduce the overconfidence that was evident among the younger players.
Now they know they can’t take any plays off, can’t take bad risks, and can’t be flashy lest they miss dunks like Rudy Gay. Lithuania is hardly the best team the U.S. will face in this tournament, with Spain and Greece as very formidable opponents. But at least Team USA knows it is no longer bulletproof. It’ll take a lot more hard work and a lot more concentration and effort to come out on top in Turkey in a couple weeks.