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Olympic Recap (08/18)
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August 20, 2008
Olympic Recap

by Kevin Pelton


United States 116, Australia 85

Possessions: 80.5
Offensive Ratings: United States 144.5, Australia 105.4

For more than a quarter, Australia appeared to be writing the script for the ultimate upset, taking out the United States after the USA's unblemished and unchallenged 5-0 romp through Group B. The Boomers refused to back down from the challenge presented by the Americans, and with scrappy shot-making and timely stops, Australia trailed by one at the quarter break and was still in position to make things very interesting down seven with a minute left in the first half.

Then the USA found its long-distance stroke and quickly put the Aussies away. Deron Williams' three before the halftime buzzer was followed by two more triples by Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony coming out of the break. At the same time, the U.S. defense stiffened, holding Australia scoreless for a 5:45 span. By the time Patrick Mills broke the dry spell with a three-pointer, he managed only to cut the lead to 23 points, and the Boomers were finished without knowing what hit them.

That quick-strike capability has made the U.S. tough on opponents throughout the Olympics, and while Australia was able to hold off the run in the first half--more than any team in Group B could manage--eventually it came and it put the game away. There's a relentlessness to the way the USA puts pressure on the ball defensively and attacks in the half-court offensively that seems to have a cumulative effect. It certainly doesn't hurt that when the U.S. intensity lags, Mike Krzyzewski can always send in Dwyane Wade or Chris Paul or Chris Bosh or any of the stars that line his bench.

Given Australia has been far better on offense than on defense in the Olympics, it should be little surprise that this was both the USA's worst defensive outing and best offensive performance in Beijing. The Aussies provided a recipe for success by pulling the American big men away from the basket, negating their ability to help, then beating their defender off the dribble. Because of the way they get up into the ball, the USA's perimeter defenders are vulnerable to getting beaten and having to foul.

Australian guard Patrick Mills has a game perfectly suited for this style, and he followed up a big exhibition performance against the U.S. in Shanghai with another strong game, scoring 20 points on 7-of-16 shooting. Mills also had three steals and nary a turnover against the American pressure, another performance that has to have people at St. Mary's University excited about next season.

The Boomers were also able to succeed at beating the U.S. pressure, committing 11 turnovers. Previously, the USA had forced at least 18 turnovers in every game in the Olympics. While the USA wants to force those turnovers, their ability to play strong defense without them has to be encouraging. Australia came in shooting 54.2 percent on twos and 44.4 percent on threes; those marks were 46.5 percent and 37.0 percent, respectively, against the U.S. Though Mills had a big game, most of the other Aussie mainstays struggled. C.J. Bruton had two points in 21 minutes; Brad Newley was limited to 2-for-9 from the field; forward David Anderson was 1-of-6 in a dismal effort; and Andrew Bogut, saddled with early foul trouble, finished with four points in 11 minutes.

Mostly though, the lopsided victory was testament to the USA's ability to score in the halfcourt offense--at least against the poor-defending Boomers. Kobe Bryant took advantage of smaller defenders, including at times the 6'2" Bruton when he was paired in the backcourt with the 6'0" Mills, in his best offensive outing in Beijing. Bryant scored 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting, and everyone worried about his three-point shooting can find something else to fret about after Bryant went 4-of-7 from beyond the arc.

Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James gave Bryant plenty of help, finishing through contact from the physical Australian defense for multiple three-point play opportunities. They combined for 31 points, relatively few coming in transition.

The other key to the USA's point production was the offensive glass, which was a major statistical surprise. Australia had been tied for second in defensive rebound percentage in group play, while the U.S. was only average on the offensive glass. However, a team effort to crash the boards allowed the USA to come up with 19 offensive rebounds to 20 defensive boards for Australia. Those translated into easy looks in the paint that helped the U.S. shoot 66.0 percent on two-pointers.

Argentina 80, Greece 78

Possessions: 65.5
Offensive Ratings: Argentina 120.4, Greece 121.4

The most anticipated quarterfinal more than lived up to the hype, with Argentina needing to survive a pretty good Vasillis Spanoulis look at the winning three-pointer in the closing seconds to survive and advance. Had Argentina finished atop Group A, it's entirely possible both of these teams would have made the semifinals, as they both did in the 2006 FIBA World Championships. Unfortunately, one of the teams was going to be eliminated, which meant a tense final quarter as well played as you'll ever see.

Ultimately, the difference between the two teams might have come down to Manu Ginobili, as Doug Collins suggested on the broadcast. Theo Papaloukas is a wonderful leader and Spanoulis a standout player, but Greece doesn't have a world-class star player to go to down the stretch. Argentina does, and Ginobili was amazing in the fourth quarter. He scored Argentina's last seven points, converting on three straight possessions he used before missing a three-pointer that could have put the game away on Argentina's last trip downcourt. The only other Greece stop in the last three minutes came when Argentina inexplicably isolated Luis Scola on the block and let him dribble into a contested turnaround without Ginobili so much as touching the ball. Ginobili's last basket, a teardrop runner with his left hand after driving right, was truly a thing of beauty.

Playing from behind throughout the fourth quarter, Greece was able to get some big three-pointers. A Dimitrios Diamantidis triple made it a one-point game before Ginobili scored four straight for Argentina. Down five with 46 seconds left, Greece played for the three and got it despite a poor possession when Pangiotis Vasilopoulos banked in his attempt to keep Greece alive. That gave Spanoulis a chance to win it, but his look was off and time ran out in the scrum for the rebound.

As great as Ginobili was, Argentina would never have been in position to go to him down the stretch were it not for terrific games by a couple of the team's role players. Carlos Delfino stepped up big time in the fourth quarter, scoring Argentina's first 15 points of the quarter. (Scola had the only bucket in the period by anybody besides Delfino and Ginobili.) For the game, Delfino had 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting, including five three-pointers. He and Ginobili combined for 11 threes in 21 attempts, which would be a good night for an entire team.

I've been neglectful in not mentioning Pablo Prigioni more during these Olympics. Prigioni is the newcomer to the Argentinean starting lineup after coming off the bench in 2004 in Athens, and he has acquitted himself quite nicely. Today, Prigioni had seven points, six rebounds, five steals and three assists, playing 36 minutes at the point. Over the course of the Olympics, Prigioni has 27 assists and 16 steals against just four turnovers, which are crazy ratios. His mistake-free play has been a major asset.

Greece got a great game from Antonis Fotsis (17 points, 10 boards) and was able to nearly knock off Argentina despite none of their trio of top guards putting up big numbers. Papaloukas had four points and four assists, Spanoulis nine points and seven boards but five turnovers and Diamantidis six points on 2-of-7 shooting.

Spain 72, Croatia 59

Possessions: 65
Offensive Ratings: Spain 110.4, Croatia 90.6

Somewhat surprisingly, Spain is cultivating a reputation in this tournament as a lockdown defensive team. In the quarterfinals, Spain held what can be a very dangerous Croatia team to 37.7 percent shooting and 5-of-19 (26.3 percent) from beyond the arc. Take out the game against the USA, which scored 131 points per 100 possessions, and Spain has defended even better than the Americans in the Olympics.

At the same time, Spain's offense continues to be mediocre outside of Pau Gasol, who put up another 20-point night on 8-of-11 shooting, and is hitting 70.6 percent of his shots in the Olympics. Led by Gasol, Spain shot the ball extremely well on twos (60.6 percent). Three-point shooting (6-of-20, 30.0 percent) continues to be an issue, and 16 turnovers also held back the Spanish offense.

Overall, Spain continues to take care of business outside of the loss to the USA. However, this team has not been nearly as impressive or dominant as was the Spanish squad that won the 2006 FIBA World Championships. We'll quickly find out whether Spain will be able to pick up its level of play as the stakes get higher.

Lithuania 94, China 68

Possessions: 67.5
Offensive Ratings: Lithuania 140.4, China 99.9

China kept the dream of medaling at home alive through the first quarter, but Lithuania pulled away in the second quarter and poured it on after halftime in a lopsided victory, ending the Olympics for Yao Ming and company. Led by Yao, who scored 19 points and made 13 trips to the free-throw line, China was able to put together a decent offensive effort despite shooting 4-of-19 from three-point range. However, Lithuania was far too hot to be stopped in this one, shooting 65.6 percent on twos, knocking down 13 three-pointers and committing just 10 turnovers.

Sarunas Jasikevicius was brilliant at the point for Lithuania, scoring 23 points in 25 minutes on 7-of-8 shooting and also managing to hand out six assists. Jasikevicius had five of Lithuania's three-pointers, while Ramunas Siskauskas had three on his way to 15 points and Simas Jasaitis (15 points) and Linas Kleiza (15) added two apiece.

The advanced stats for the teams that played in the quarterfinals:

Team            Gr    Diff   ORating Rank   DRating Rank    Pace

United States    B    39.4    129.1    1      90.5    1     81.2
Argentina        A    15.9    121.0    3     107.0    4     69.0
Spain            B    14.4    110.4    7      97.8    2     72.0
Lithuania        A    11.6    118.4    5     105.6    3     73.5
Greece           B     9.2    120.1    4     109.3    5     68.9
Australia        A     4.7    121.5    2     116.7   10     74.4
Croatia          A     1.5    114.1    6     113.0    6     66.8
China            B   -14.6    104.4    9     116.1    9     68.7

And here are the Four Factors on offense and defense for each team.

                                OFFENSE                           DEFENSE
Team            Gr     eFG%    OR%   FTM/FGA   TO%       eFG%    DR%   FTM/FGA   TO%

Argentina         A   0.586   0.279   0.234   0.159     0.503   0.701   0.211   0.168
Australia         A   0.569   0.281   0.251   0.145     0.613   0.684   0.242   0.217
China             B   0.475   0.300   0.273   0.179     0.532   0.674   0.184   0.146
Croatia           A   0.539   0.346   0.239   0.177     0.543   0.708   0.223   0.167
Greece            B   0.573   0.332   0.239   0.167     0.534   0.730   0.181   0.172
Lithuania         A   0.584   0.286   0.282   0.185     0.480   0.690   0.354   0.188
Spain             B   0.503   0.386   0.242   0.177     0.514   0.777   0.212   0.216
United States     B   0.618   0.336   0.219   0.141     0.433   0.706   0.208   0.214

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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Olympic Recap (08/18)
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Olympic Preview (08/21)

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