Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Instant Analysis: Team USA 110, Tunisia 63
By Marc Stein
LONDON -- Some at-the-buzzer instant analysis of Team USA's 110-63 pounding Tuesday night of Tunisia in Group A play.
How it happened: How?
The Americans, flat as they clearly were at the start against the consensus weakest country in the 12-team Olympic field, were looking at each other in shock with 2:39 to go in the first quarter, at which point they stunningly were still stuck on 12 points and trailing by one.
Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski insisted later that there was no message behind the move, but he made a five-man mass substitution late in the first quarter and sent out that same second five to start the second half. Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Tyson Chandler were thus forced to watch the start of the third quarter from the bench, after setting the sleepy tone that had the Americans up by a mere 46-33 at the break.
And seemingly worse followed when Kevin Love -- one of the second-half starters alongside Carmelo Anthony, Andre Iguodala, Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook -- took a knock to his right knee after a twisting lefty layup on the break.
To Team USA's relief, Love shook off the injury to knock in a couple 3s in the fourth quarter in what, on paper, will look like the rout everyone expected when looking strictly at the final score. In reality, though, Team USA was forced to hold its collective breath more than once in what was supposed to be a walkover against the lone team in the field with zero NBA players. Strange night.
What it means: As long there's no lasting damage to Love's knee ... nothing. If there was any game in this tournament in which Team USA could afford to sleepwalk for a spell, it was this one. (OK: Thursday's date with Nigeria also qualifies).
Tunisia was brave for a half, Makram Ben Rohmdhane and Marouan Kechrid played their way onto highlight reels that will endure back home forever and Krzyzewski has plenty of incriminating first-half video to show at Team USA's next film session. Eventually, though, Tunisia's talent deficit was always going to be punished by at least 40 points no matter how the actual details played out. That's just the reality of how far apart in the basketball universe these two countries obviously are.
The standout result Tuesday in Group A could only be Joakim Noah-less France defeating Argentina, 71-64, in the first-ever game that pitted Spurs teammates Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili against each other. That surprise means France -- picked by some to finish as low as fourth in the group thanks to Noah's absence and Parker's struggles in the wake of emergency eye surgery in June -- suddenly has an early jump on the race to the No. 2 spot behind Team USA ahead of the Argentineans and Lithuania.
Player of the game: Give it to Ben Romdhane. And not just because his 22 points made him the evening's high scorer. The way he rumbled right down the middle of the floor for an early coast-to-coast dunk, especially for a big man no one in America has realistically ever heard of, sent Ben Romdhane on his way to the stat line of his life, with 11 boards added to the point total. Coach K singled him out afterward, too.
Play of the game: LeBron's takeoff from the middle of the key and thunderous throwdown in the first half, with Mohamed Hadidane ill-advisedly jumping into the frame to contest it, will undoubtedly get several nominations. Ditto for Iguodala's left-handed rebound jam in the third quarter for a 35-point lead.
Not here, though.
Kechrid's banked 3-pointer to beat the shot clock with 7:23 to go in the second quarter, which he followed with two more 3s from each wing set up by clever ball-fakes that sent Deron Williams and James Harden flying by, will be ESPN.com's standout memories from a game that wasn't supposed to be memorable at all.
By the numbers: Given the point spreads that were circulating before tipoff, with bovada.lv listing Team USA as a 54-point favorite, it's difficult to start anywhere but with the number nine.
Because, with almost nine minutes gone in the first quarter, Tunisia was still holding that 13-12 lead.
Yet it must be noted that the sluggish start, after all of the travails above, didn't come close to stopping the Americans from not only winning by 47 but also convincing Tunisia coach Adel Tlatli that they didn't run up the score as much as they could have. Which prompted Tlatli to say afterward that he was grateful for Team USA's "dignity."