Team USA's Dwyane Wade takes a shot during a preliminary match agaisnt Spain. USA won 119-82.
That's probably enough talk about statement games for Team USA in the Olympic basketball competition. Tonight's 119-82 destruction of Spain, the 2006 World Champions, was more like a throwback game: a throwback to the days of the Dream Team, when the US seemed to play a different class of hoops than its competitors. Spain has NBA star Pau Gasol, slick point guard Jose Calderon, and an established style of success in international ball. Yet tonight they got obliterated, wilting against the absolutely withering defense the US team has brought to Beijing.
"We had 28 turnovers and that's just a staggering number," Gasol said after the game. "You just don't have a chance with that many turnovers." The US led by 16 at the half, by 23 after three quarters, and played with relentless ferocity to the final buzzer. The only drama for the drained Spanish fans in attendance was whether Gasol & Co. were going to be able to break 80.
So far in the run-up to the medal rounds, the US basketball team has been on a higher athletic plane than its opposition. One statistic tonight shows just how otherworldly that plane is: Team USA scored 32 points off of fast breaks. Spain scored none. As US forward Carmelo Anthony said afterward, "I don't think I've seen that before."
And for the first time in this tournament, when Spain did manage to get the US into a half-court game, the Americans responded with the kind of shooting efficiency that some skeptics wondered whether they possessed. Anthony in particular was sniping from three-point land with positively European brio — shooting four of six from behind the arc. Consistently, the US swung the ball crisply in the half-court game, found the open man, and then nailed long-range jumpers: Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Tayshaun Prince (three of four) and Deron Williams all made three pointers. Overall, Team USA shot 12 of 25 from three-point land.
Though anyone close to Team USA is too polite to say it, if they shoot that well in next week's medal round, they're not likely to play a close game. The "Redeem Team'' is half way to redemption, and at this point it's hard to see what might stop them. Just ask Gasol. "They wanted to make a statement tonight, and they did," he said. "They are for real, and they are very serious about this. It's hard to keep up with that intensity."