I had the chance to go catch Team USA’s final exhibition on American soil before they head off to Turkey for the 2010 FIBA World Championship starting on August 28. As expected, the US boys rolled over the French in Madison Square Garden, winning 86-55, although they didn’t look particularly good on offense or defense early and were deadlocked with France at 16-16 after one quarter.
It was just an exhibition, but it still offered a little insight into what we might be might see from Team USA in Turkey. Here’s a few thoughts from Madison Square Garden.
- The team started off sloppy early in the first quarter, at one point turning the ball over on two consecutive possessions, mishandling easy passes in semi-transition. Unforced errors like that shouldn’t be happening with Rajon Rondo and Chauncey Billups on the floor (although it was more KD and Iggy’s fault, respectively, in these two specific instances). As for the starters, I think what we saw today will likely be the same group we see starting the first game in Turkey: Rajon, Chauncey, Iggy, Durant and Tyson Chandler. Chauncey’s vet savvy and shooting make him a good fit at the two, Durant and Tyson are locks, and Iggy/Gay seems like essentially a coin-flip as both bring some much-need athleticism/slashing to the wing, but Iggy does play a little more D, so I would take him. Rajon/Rose could go either way, too, I suppose, but Rajon has the experience, and that seems like the go-to tiebreaker for USA coaches.
- Speaking of Rondo â€¦ On Saturday, Rajon mentioned that he had not yet gotten the chance to return a phone call to chat with his new teammate Shaq, but when asked if he’s looking forward to running the break with the big fella, he said “hopefully he can keep up with me â€¦ I’ll wait for him.” He also expressed that playing for Team USA was a change since, compared to guys like Steph Curry, Eric Gordon and Jeff Green, he’s “like a veteran,” he said. “On my team, I’m the young guy so it’s a different look.”
- The play of the day went to one of those young’ns. Steph Curry forced a nice steal around half court by playing pesky D then was able to tip toe the sideline to keep it inbounds, immediately whipping a behind-the-back dribble to get by two defenders and pushing it up the floor. He was far from done, however, freezing a defender in transition around the elbow with a sharp crossover and getting all the way to the cup. Rather than take a contested layup, he dumped it off to Rudy Gay for a power dunk. The sequence was MSG-approved and marked one of the many dunks that sent the near-capacity-eventually (started about half full and then filled up most of the way) crowd into a frenzy.
- Rondo had a pretty nice play of his own, however, Rondo-ing his way by a France defender for a sweeping, easy lay-in. It was impressive, sure, but at this point I almost expect one of those per game. Unconfirmed reports lead me to believe that the French kids watching at home are calling the play “Le Rondo’d.”
- Rudy Gay wasn’t gonna let the little guys have all the fun and added to the highlight reel with back-to-back breakaway dunks early in the fourth. The first, a Harold Miner-esque, leaning reverse two-hander, gets a 9 out of 10 from me, while the second, more of a 270-degree, spinning one handed reverse, deserves a solid 8 out of 10 on the in-game dunk-o-meter. Iggy added a nice power windmill dunk of his own on a first-half breakaway. I was well aware of MSG’s affinity for dunks, but it seems that patriotic dunks are that much sweeter.
- Eric Gordon barely saw the floor early (93 seconds in the first half ), but got some run in the second (about 12 minutes) as, presumably, Coach K and company wanted one final look at the kid. He hit two treys and added one other bucket, but my gut tells me he’ll be the last man cut from Team USA. Steph Curry just seemed to be a little more ingrained in the rotation from the two games I saw this weekend, bringing the ball up on occasion and spacing the floor with his shooting. And if it’s just shooting they care about keeping, Danny Granger also did this yesterday â€” although I never actually thought Granger had a chance of getting cut anyway unless his finger was actually injured. (It’s not. He’s fine.)
- Nando De Colo of France (a player who the Spurs own the rights to and RC Buford, according to Jeff Garcia of Project Spurs, has called the best point guard currently playing in France) hit a nice trey right in front of the press box during the first half. He easily has the best name of anyone who was in Madison Square on Sunday.