Anyone still think Team USA 2012 would have no chance to defeat the Dream Team?
Any takers? Anyone?
If you do, you are either delusional, or you didn't see what Team USA did to Nigeria on August 2, 2012.
For all of you skeptics, I know that your first thought upon reading that opening sentence was, "Well, it's just Nigeria."
I'll let Doc Rivers provide a rebuttal. In his postgame analysis, Rivers stated, "That may be the best shooting performance in basketball history. I mean really, I've never seen anyone or any team shoot, we're talking about the threes, 81% from the two's."
Rivers' cohost jumped in and stated, "Yeah, 81% from two, 63% from three, 29 made three point shots."
Rivers continued, "That's remarkable. I don't care what kind of defense, I think a lot of teams, even this team, you can leave them open the entire game and they can't shoot that well. That's just amazing."
Amazing it was. Team USA smashed all sorts of records in their astounding 156-73 pummeling of Nigeria. In case you think I mistyped that quote, yes, it does read "29 made three point shots." 29! After Kevin Love sank back to back three pointers with just over 90 seconds left in the game, Doug Collins effused this praise, "You gotta be kidding me. I've never seen shooting like this. Ever. I don't care who your opponent is in the gym, you still gotta make those shots."
Team USA made 14 three pointers in the first half — one more than any US squad has ever made in an entire game. Team USA scored 156 points, 18 more than the highest point total ever — Brazil scored 138 against Egypt in '88. Team USA shattered the Dream Team's high of 127 points in a game — set against Angola. Team USA won by 83 points, 15 points higher than the Dream Team's highest margin — a 68 point demolishing of Angola in the 127 game. Carmelo Anthony surpassed Stephon Marbury's 31 points from '04 in Athens by pouring in 37 points in just 14 minutes to mark the highest point total for any US player in the Olympics. Despite raining down three pointers, Team USA could not catch Korea's highest margin of victory — a 120-20 drubbing of Iraq in '48 — but they came pretty close — and they could have reached the mark if they had truly wanted to run up the score. Anthony still trails Brazil's Oscar Schmidt and his 55 points that he dropped on Spain in '88, but the manner in which Anthony did it cannot be compared — a ridiculous 10-12 three point shooting performance.
This is the type of performance that I've been dying to see from Team USA. Team USA has displayed a penchant for slow starts, cold shooting, and bad shot selection, but against Nigeria, Team USA put it all together and delivered a performance for the ages. After struggling early against a vastly inferior Tunisian team, Team USA came out focused and intent on sending a message against Nigeria.
In fact, the seeds for this performance were planted in the Tunisia game. After Tunisia took an early 12-15 lead, Coach K performed a full five man substitution. Coach K has denied that the substitution symbolized anything, but we all know better. In fact, it almost seemed like Coach K went out of his way to perform full five man substitutions against Nigeria — doing so late in the first quarter, and then again early in the second quarter.
Kobe Bryant was a part of that humiliating substitution against Tunisia, and he made sure that such an occurrence would not happen against Nigeria. Bryant set the tone early by scoring seven of Team USA's first 10 points. First he sank two free throws after a strong take to the rim, then he crossed over between his legs and stepped into a contested three pointer from the wing, and he followed that up with a leak out and pull up jumper from the wing in semi-transition. Kevin Durant was no slouch either. Durant hit a three on the first possession of the game following a skip pass from LeBron James. Then he hit another three following a lob from Bryant to James, in which James caught the ball at the block and decided to rifle an underhanded pass out to Durant at the wing. Durant's three pointer put Team USA up 13-0 within the first three minutes of the game.
Bryant, Durant, and James continued their barrage before Coach K decided to sub in the bench with a full rotation. After a powerful slam by James following a handoff from Chandler at the elbow, Bryant sank an isolation fadeaway from the block. Then Durant hit a corner three following a drive and kick from Paul to James at the wing, who then swung to Durant in the corner. Bryant one upped Durant with a far side three. Bryant jabbed to back up his man, and then he fired up the contested shot — swish. Bryant immediately pressed Nigeria following the basket, and he came up with a steal and threw down a 180° reverse pump dunk. Following a made free throw from Nigeria, Team USA led 25-11, and Coach K performed a full five man substitution.
Taking a cue from Bryant, Anthony came in and immediately went to work. On his first possession, he nailed a catch and shoot corner three. Following two layups from Deron Williams, and a three pointer from Russell Westbrook, Anthony hit another catch and shoot three — this time from the top. Anthony's three put Team USA up 38-15 with 2:09 remaining. Kevin Love decided to get in on the action, and he hit a three following a probe and kick from Williams. Anthony followed that up with consecutive three pointers — catch and shoot opportunities from the corner and the wing. Westbrook capped the quarter with a coast to coast layup, and Team USA finished the quarter ahead 49-25. Team USA made 11-14 three pointers in the quarter, and Anthony shot 4-4 from deep. To say the least, the 49 point onslaught was impressive.
Team USA slowed down considerably in the second quarter. Anthony missed his first shot of the game, a three pointer on the first possession of the quarter. In fact, Team USA missed their first four three pointers of the quarter, and they only made 3-10 from deep in the quarter. Despite cooling down a bit, Team USA kept up the defensive pressure. Following a leak out dunk by Anthony, Westbrook came up with a steal at midcourt, and he promptly threw down a monster two handed slam. A minute later, Durant scored five straight points following two assists from Bryant, and James followed him by jumping into the passing lanes and throwing down a dunk in transition. On the next possession, Team USA forced a 24 second violation, and James came down and fed Chandler an alley oop dunk following a pick and roll. After Bryant hit a shake and bake turnaround jumper to make the score 64-32, he followed it up with a steal and assist to James for a transition layup. Westbrook followed Bryant with his own steal, and James Harden capped off the play after throwing down a lob sent from Durant. After five straight points from Anthony — a layup and another three — Williams capped the quarter with a catch and shoot three from the top. Although Team USA only outscored Nigeria 29-20 in the second quarter, they still looked impressive.
Team USA went into the half ahead 78-45. Nigeria would only end up scoring 73 points the entire game. Anthony led all scorers with 19 points, and Bryant flanked him with 16 — two more points than he had against France and Tunisia combined. Team USA shot 31-46 (67.4%) from the field, and 14-24 (58.3%) from deep. Team USA forced 14 turnovers, and they capitalized by scoring 17 points off of those turnovers.
Nigeria wasn't horrible — they shot 17-35 (48.6%) from the field — but they just couldn't keep up with Team USA. Nigeria put up a decent amount of points, but their defense just wasn't getting it done. Nigeria seemed a step late on many of their closeouts, and after Bryant sank his opening contested jumpers, I think they almost figured, "Why bother?". Nigeria did pull down eight offensive rebounds, but such effort came with a cost — Nigeria routinely crashed the glass, leaving the floor unbalanced, and allowing Team USA to run wild in transition. I found it surprising that Nigeria kept crashing the offensive boards so hard considering they were getting demolished in transition. Even more surprising, Nigeria failed to run Team USA off of the three point line. Instead of making Team USA take a dribble in and make a play, Nigeria routinely sat back and watched the deep ball fly.
As a sign of respect, Coach K sat Bryant and James for the entire second half. Coach K started Chris Paul, Durant, Andre Iguodala, Anthony, and Anthony Davis. Davis's first action in the game actually came later than expected. In the second quarter, Davis was involved in a rather humorous moment — Davis walked over to the scorer's table in order to enter the game, but as he prepared to enter, Davis realized that he didn't have his jersey on under his warmups. Davis sheepishly walked back to the bench, and he immediately took a ribbing from his teammates. Despite the blunder, Davis made sure to put his jersey on to start the half, and he threw down an alley oop jam following a pick and roll with Anthony on the first possession of play.
Then Anthony took over and put on a mesmerizing display of shooting. Anthony missed his first shot of the third quarter, but he wouldn't miss again — except for a free throw. Anthony scored 20 of the next 22 points — Paul had one layup. Anthony started it off with a finish in the lane following a drive and dump off from Durant. Then Anthony leaked out and drew a foul in transition, making one of two free throws. Paul followed with a layup, and then Anthony sank his first of five straight three pointers. Yes, five straight. Anthony sank a three from the top following a drive and kick and swing from Durant. Then Paul sent a skip pass to Anthony at the near wing for a three. Then Anthony ran down a misplaced behind the back pass from Paul that bounced to mid court. Anthony gathered the ball, dribbled up the court, and stepped into a three from the top — swish. This shot tied Stephon Marbury at 31 for the most points from a US player. Then Anthony stole a pass in the lane, sent an outlet to Durant, and ran down the court to receive a trailing three pointer from the top — splash. According to Anthony, he didn't know that he had just set the record, but the reaction from his teammates may have given it away. The bench promptly exploded as Nigeria took a timeout with the score standing at 97-54 with 5:26 on the clock. Following the timeout, Paul ran a high pick and roll with Anthony, and he sent a perfect pocket bounce pass to Anthony at the near top. Anthony sank the three and then paid homage to Michael Jordan by performing the famous "Jordan Shrug." This would serve as Anthony's final bucket, leaving him with an efficient 37 points in just 14 minutes.
Following Anthony's barrage, Westbrook and Williams closed out the quarter. Westbrook quickly scored 14 points in just 4:30 of play, and Williams dropped six points in the same frame. Westbrook had a stretch of eight straight points. First he ran down an errant lob intended for Williams and he nailed a three from the wing. Then he drew a foul on a three pointer and made two of three free throws. After missing the third free throw, Chandler gobbled up the offensive rebound and kicked it back out to Westbrook. Westbrook promptly sank a pull up three pointer from the far side.
To close the quarter, Westbrook threw down an amazing alley oop slam. Westbrook nearly got hung on the rim, but he was able to power the ball through the rim. After sending a lob ahead to Love, Westbrook continued pushing forward, and he skied to receive a touch pass back from Love. Westbrook's dunk put Team USA ahead 119-62 to enter the fourth quarter. Team USA outscored Nigeria 41-17 in the quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Team USA considerably held back. Team USA abandoned any sort of ball pressure, and instead they played a soft 2/3 zone the entire time. Team USA pretty much played off and allowed Tunisia to fire up bricks for the entire quarter. Team USA also abandoned any sort of fast break play. In fact, within the first minute of the quarter, Paul picked up a steal after a pass was almost thrown directly into his chest just past mid court. Although ahead of everyone, Paul decided to slow down and wait for his teammates by dribbling out to the wing. Despite displaying a moment of sympathy, Paul then fired up a three pointer from the far side — swish. Following Paul's three, Iguodala sank an open three pointer from the far corner — giving Team USA 127 points to tie the Dream Team's highest output. With 7:48 on the clock, Team USA would have plenty of time to demolish the Dream Team's highest output. On the very next possession, Iguodala sank a near side three to surpass the Dream Team and put Team USA 2012 in the record books. Following two dunks from Davis, and a dunk from Harden, Iguodala, Harden, and Williams sank consecutive three pointers. Iguodala's three with 4:37 remaining gave Team USA 139 points — marking the highest scoring output from one team in Olympics history. Love closed out the game with 10 of Team USA's final 11 points. Love finished a putback, hit a far wing three, hit another far wing three, then tipped in a missed Davis free throw. Despite holding back, Team USA won the quarter 37-11.
Overall, Team USA's performance was one for the ages. Team USA won by 83 points — 156-73. Team USA finished 59-83 (71.1%) from the field, 30-37 (81%) from two, and 29-46 (63%) from three. Team USA dished out a staggering 41 assists on 59 made baskets. Team USA outrebounded Nigeria 35-30. Team USA forced 25 turnovers and scored 42 points off of those turnovers. Team USA picked up 12 steals and one block. Team USA only committed seven turnovers — with no one on the team committing more than one.
Sporting four NBA players, Nigeria qualified for Olympic basketball for the first time in the country's history. Unfortunately, they will forever be inked in the record books in a rather unflattering manner. Despite the big loss, Ike Diogu turned in a pretty good game, scoring 27 points on 11-17 shooting, and grabbing seven rebounds. Nigeria finished 28-68 (41.2%) from the field and 6-27 (22.2%) from deep. Nigeria finished with 15 assists.
Diogu was good, but nothing could touch Anthony. Anthony led all scorers with his 37 points, and Westbrook flanked him with 21. Anthony scored 19 points in nine minutes and 17 seconds in the first half. He followed that up with 18 points in five minutes and 12 seconds in the third quarter. Anthony finished 13-16 from the field with a staggering 10-12 from deep. Williams led the game with 11 assists, and Davis and Love tied for a team high six rebounds. Westbrook led the game with three steals, and Love picked up Team USA's only block of the game.
Some have questioned if Team USA ran up the score. If you watched the game, you know that this did not happen. Anthony didn't play in the final 15 minutes, and James and Bryant sat the final 24 minutes. Nigeria routinely came down and fired up three pointers early in the clock, allowing Team USA to get out and run. Nigeria also failed to make any sort of adjustment on the defensive end — namely, running the shooters off the three point line. All Nigeria had to do was close out hard and force Team USA to shoot two's.
Instead, Nigeria willingly sat back and watched Team USA burn them. If Team USA truly wanted to run up the score, they probably could have put about 180 points on the board. Team USA stopped pressing about midway through the second quarter, and Team USA went into a super soft 2/3 zone for the entire fourth quarter. Team USA also made a conscious decision not to score fast break points in the fourth quarter. You can't blame Team USA for taking, and making, three point shots. The abundance of three pointers may have seemed excessive, but a shot has to be taken every 24 seconds — do you expect the guys to just run out the clock and pile up shot clock violations? I sure don't.
I found the game to be very respectful, and I found the game to be very entertaining. Team USA 2012 showed the world just how dominant they can be. Only Harden shot under 50% from the field. Every member of the team scored. James and Davis were the only members of the team to not make a three pointer. Overall, the memorable performance will live on, and even when Team USA wins the gold, it will probably serve as the game everybody remembers twenty years from now.
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