Commentary

Nothing but buckets

Krzyzewski faces challenge after Team USA topples scoring marks against Nigeria

Originally Published: August 2, 2012
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

LONDON -- After a deluge hard to fathom even by the standards of rainy England, after the 29 3-pointers and a historic 83-point beatdown and the uncomfortable news conference that followed, Mike Krzyzewski pulled his coaching counterpart aside to tell Ayodele Bakare two important things.

For Coach K, before he left the room, there were two points he felt he had to convey to the coach on the other end of a scoreline that a certain Dream Team never generated: United States 156, Nigeria 73.

No. 1?

"I've never had a team, at any level, shoot the ball like that," Krzyzewski assured Bakare, sounding almost apologetic as he tried to explain -- again -- what fueled the otherworldy, record-setting display of precision from the perimeter that Carmelo Anthony and the rest of Team USA had just inflicted.

[+] EnlargeCarmelo Anthony
Harry E. Walker/MCTCarmelo Anthony needed only 14 minutes to score a U.S.-record 37 points in a 156-73 win over Nigeria.

No. 2?

"I would just flush it," Krzyzewski said, counseling his Nigerian rival that there's no point spending any significant time dwelling on what went wrong on one crazy night against a team of NBA All-Stars that almost literally could not miss.

"Just flush it," Krzyzewski could be heard saying again. "That's what I would do."

Sound advice.

So sound, in fact, that Krzyzewski and his players have even more reason to heed it than the Nigerians.

It's not going to be easy. Not after the way all those records fell late Thursday in the last of six games on a wild, wild evening at the newly built basketball venue in Olympic Park. The truth is, though, that the Americans responsible for producing the most lopsided outcome in the hoop history of the Summer Games, starting with Anthony and his ridiculous 37 points in just 14 minutes, would be wise to forget about this trip to Dreamland as quickly as possible. It's never going to be this easy for them again, never going to be this swish-y, for them again in this tournament, which is one of the reasons Krzyzewski could scarcely crack a smile up there at the postgame podium.

Another source of irritation was the suggestion from a German reporter that Team USA ran up the score. That prompted Coach K -- after noting how LeBron James and Kobe Bryant were benched after halftime, how Anthony and Kevin Durant soon shot their way next to them and how Team USA went exclusively to a zone defense and called off fast breaks in the fourth quarter-- to shoot back that "I take offense to this question." He also made the counter claim that holding back against the first-time Olympians would have been a far greater sign of disrespect.

"You have to take a shot every 24 seconds," Krzyzewski said, "and the shots we took happened to be hit."

Yet the greater worry for Coach K is surely the work that lies ahead, before and after Saturday's Group A date with Lithuania, in the fight against overconfidence. Keeping the guys grounded is going to take some work after the Americans bettered the Dream Team's best-ever win (116-48 over Angola) by a full 15 points, established a new U.S. Olympic standard for single-game margin of victory and went 18 points beyond the previous single-game Olympic mark of 138 points generated by Oscar Schmidt's Brazil against Egypt in the 1988 Olympics.

It gets even trickier for the coaching staff when you start taking stock of all the issues mounting for the Yanks' supposed competition. In the evening game that preceded Team USA's, Spain played for the second successive time without injured guard Juan Carlos Navarro (foot) and continued to play well below Spanish standards, ekeing out a 79-78 win over the one-dimensional host nation that relies on Chicago's Luol Deng to do pretty much everything.

The Brazilians are widely regarded as the next-biggest threat to the United States after the Spaniards, but they've just suffered their first loss in Group B on a Vitaly Frizdon 3-pointer inside the final two seconds that sealed a 75-74 triumph for surging Russia (3-0) and its American-Israeli coach David Blatt. And Argentina, already coming off Tuesday's loss to France, found itself trailing tiny Tunisia by 14 points after a quarter and still deadlocked 40-40 at halftime in another game that preceded Team USA's, before Manu Ginobili & Co. pulled away for a modest 92-69 win.

The upshot of all that is that Team USA's 47-point rout of the Tunisians, which caused so much consternation because of the Americans' extremely slow start and wayward early shooting, is starting to look like a quality win compared to the struggles of so many top contenders. The Yanks, furthermore, are now certain to hear and read, over and over, how they're increasingly untouchable at London 2012. Unbeatable after shooting 71.1 percent from the floor overall and 29-for-46 from that irresistibly shorter 3-point line while racking up 41 assists and forcing 25 fatal turnovers. Unguardable, even.

Which obviously makes them vulnerable if they buy into any of it.

"Our guys just couldn't miss tonight," Krzyzewski said.

"I hope we saved some [3s] for the other games."

Said Team USA swingman Andre Iguodala, who resisted multiple invitations to play for Nigeria in recent years in hopes he'd be good enough to represent the United States and then sank the 3 that broke Brazil's 138-point record: "It'll go down in history, but it only matters if we achieve our goals."

One small aim, at the very least, was realized in this laugher, as the heavy gold-medal favorites put an emphatic halt to the growing skepticism about their marksmanship outside to counter zone defenses. With Paul and Deron Williams determined to run the ball right at the Nigerians, driving them back into the paint and opening up the likes of Anthony and Durant and Kevin Love for wide-open 3s as trail men, Team USA hit those 29 triples to set a new record for the program. The previous single-game American record of 13 was broken by halftime, actually, thanks largely to the 11 3s alone that were drained in a mesmerizing 49-point opening quarter.

It was just Monday that Melo asked Schmidt, an unexpected visitor to Team USA practice as part of his work for Brazilian television during these Olympics, to snap a picture with him. By Thursday night, Anthony couldn't have been much more Oscar-like, shooting 10-for-12 on 3s, leading to a 37-point record outburst that ranks as the closest any American has come to the 55 points that Schmidt scored against Spain in '88.

"It's kinda hard to explain it," Melo said of the zone he found himself in, specifically his five straight 3s in a magical span of just two minutes in the third quarter. "If you haven't done it, you won't really understand what I'm talking about."

Said Love: "It was unbelievable. I was at a loss for words watching. Every time he shot the ball, I just went up, stood up, held the three [fingers] in the air. I knew it was in."

Former No. 9 overall pick Ike Diogu, with 27 points and seven boards, was Nigeria's only counter. But both Diogu and the gracious Bakare said afterward that they did not feel as though their world-famous foes were trying to overload the scoreboard in an international setting, remember, where the game lasts only 40 minutes as opposed to 48.

"They didn't go out of their way to humiliate us," Diogu said. "I didn't feel like that."

"Coach K is one of the biggest influences on my coaching career," Bakare said, "something he might deny after the result of this game."

Among his repeated attempts to lighten the postgame mood, Bakare then told the story of how he had a message for Krzyzewski when they shook hands on the floor to exchange good-luck wishes at rout's end.

"As if you need it," Bakare said he jokingly tacked on.

But Coach K knows better. He knows he just witnessed a shooting exhibition "that's not going to happen very often." He abruptly canceled Friday's practice in the wee hours after the beatdown, which will give his guys a few extra hours to revel in the glory of how they made it rain in London with those 29 3s ... and give Krzyzewski a little more time to figure out how to drag them back down to Earth.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics