Team USA bounced back in a big way on Tuesday night in a 108-80 victory over Argentina which was sorely needed following back-to-back losses to Nigeria and Australia earlier in the week. After getting off to a hot start, Team USA was able to build on their lead in the third quarter to really end any hopes that Argentina had of making things interesting down the stretch.
Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal, Bam Adebayo and Damian Lillard were fantastic for the United States as the All-Stars performed up to the level that fans have grown accustomed to seeing over the course of their respective careers. It will be imperative for Team USA that these four players continue to produce at a high level if the United States wants to achieve its goal of bringing home gold.
With the win, Team USA moves to 1-2 in their Olympic tune-up games with a second matchup against Australia on tap for Friday night at 6 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network. For now, here are the three biggest takeaways from Team USA’s win.
1. Not out of the woods just yet
It would be tempting to assume that Team USA fully righted the ship with this impressive victory. There’s even some poetry in the opponent. Argentina is the team that cost Team USA the gold medal in 2004. It seems fitting that it should be the opponent that helps them get back on track now. It’s a nice narrative, but it’s not necessarily a fair one.
Remember, the same Nigeria team that beat Team USA on Saturday also blew Argentina out, 94-71. This isn’t the same team that gave Team USA so much trouble in 2004. Manu Ginobili is retired. Andres Nocioni is retired. Fabricio Oberto is retired. Carlos Delfino is retired. Luis Scola is the last major figure from that group remaining, and he’s 41 years old.
Team USA jumped out to a quick 28-12 lead over Argentina, overwhelming them with their superior athleticism and shotmaking. From that point on, though, the two sides played fairly evenly until the fourth quarter as Team USA led by 19 after three. The Americans started 7-for-10 from 3… and then went 6-of-19 thereafter. All five Team USA starters were plus-21 or better in the plus-minus column. The reserves were somewhat mixed. Darius Garland, Kevin Love and Keldon Johnson were all negative.
The point is that as lopsided as this score looks, it hardly represents the all-around domination Team USA was probably hoping for. Argentina is not a particularly daunting opponent, and after a rocky start, they settled down and played reasonably competitively for most of the game. The Americans took a step on Tuesday. They still have a ways to go.
2. How do you defend Team USA’s pick-and-roll?
Damian Lillard is used to opponents throwing every defensive resource at their disposal at him. He is routinely blitzed off of screens in a desperate effort to force the ball out of his hands. Opponents can’t do that on the international stage. His teammates are too good. So too often, they went under screens against him in the pick-and-roll.
That’s the single worst way to defend a Lillard pick-and-roll. He walked into eight 3-point attempts in 26 minutes, most of them easy pull-ups. He nailed three of them. That is going to be par for the course in the Olympics because there just isn’t a viable alternative. Blitz Lillard? You’re giving an All-Star team a 4-on-3. Switch the screen? He’s one-on-one against an overmatched big man that probably isn’t NBA-quality. There are maybe a half-dozen big men on Earth that are comfortable defending Lillard on the perimeter. Two of them, Draymond Green and Bam Adebayo, play for Team USA.
Your best bet is probably chasing Lillard over screens. Very few guards are strong enough to get over and quick enough to catch up to him. Most of those guards are American. You can replace Lillard in this scenario with Bradley Beal, Zach Lavine or Devin Booker, who hasn’t yet arrived as he’s still playing in the NBA Finals. This is the fundamental issue that any team hoping to defend Team USA has to solve: their guards have such remarkable shooting range and are so obscenely athletic that there’s really no good way of defending them. You just have to pick a method and hope they miss shots.
3. Team USA’s defensive vulnerabilities
Scola is 41. He’s still a valuable player on the international stage, but at this point in his career, he really shouldn’t be causing problems for a team as talented as this American roster. Yet he scored 16 points in under 19 minutes. He did so in part by exploiting mismatches that he was freely given. Team USA has three real big men on the roster right now. Kevin Love is a defensive minus. Green and Adabeyo are best used in switching schemes, so the Americans are switching quite a bit.
That allowed Argentina to hunt smaller Team USA defenders for Scola to exploit. Australia had similar success in their exhibition matchup with Team USA. There isn’t a traditional rim-protecting big man on this roster. Team USA probably could get away with some…