After being given a scare against Montenegro and then backing that up by getting their ass kicked by Lithuania (I don't care what the final score says, Team USA was down by as many as 21), I think it's fair to suggest that all eyes were on the US heading into their quarterfinals debut against Italy. You could technically make the case that the loss to Lithuania actually helped Team USA since it sent them to this side of the bracket, especially with how good Serbia looked this morning in their win, eliminating Lithuania. But at the same time, this is Team USA. It shouldn't matter who you play, the expectation is the same. Win.
Well now after watching Team USA dismantle Italy right from the jump, this looked like a much more locked in and engaged team compared to what we saw on Sunday. For starters, the perimeter defense. The energy and effort was on display from the opening possession, with Team USA snagging 5 early OREB while finally getting stops on the other end. Crazy what can happen when you don't allow an opponent to start a game 9-9 from deep isn't it? Instead, Team USA was everywhere defensively and before you knew it, this was a 22 point game at the break
Team USA built this lead the same way they usually do. By being dominant across the board. Over the first 20 minutes, it was fairly clear that these two teams weren't exactly what I would deem as the same level. Team USA crushed in all the high-effort dirty work plays, getting off to a 28-20 rebounding advantage. They finished the first half with a 13-3 points off turnover difference, a 12-3 fastbreak points difference, and a 7-19 vs 2-19 3PA difference. Finally getting back to not being completely crushed on the glass, I thought Team USA was way more impactful defensively. They got up in air space, they put the pressure on, and then when they forced a miss you saw the most important piece. They finished that defensive possession clean with DREBs.
The first half was essentially a look at what makes this team so good. It wasn't just one guy that carried, there was once again balance. Mikal Bridges may have led the way early with 14 (and was probably their best overall player today)
but it was once again Team USA's second unit that came in and opened this game up
I'd say you're in a pretty decent spot when your best player Anthony Edwards scores a total of zero (0) points in the first half and you still find yourself with a 22 point lead. That's depth baby. And playing an opponent that's nowhere near your level, but I say focus on the depth instead since that's what is going to matter moving forward. Team USA built their separation with that 2nd unit, and that's going to be the formula for the rest of the tournament. Getting a half where guys like Paolo is a +18, Haliburton is a +12, and Reaves is a +10 is what separates Team USA from everyone else. There is no break when it comes to this lineup as long as everyone comes to play and collectively does not play like assholes. Basically, just do the exact opposite of Sunday. Considering through 2.5 quarters the Villanova trio (Bridges, Brunson, Hart) were outscoring Italy 36-34, I'd say that's what happened.
From start to finish, this looked like a team that woke up after their embarrassing showing against Lithuania. That's always the biggest thing when we have these tournaments. The second Team USA thinks they can just show up and they'll automatically win because they're Team USA is the exact moment when they get embarrassed. That was definitely not the case today, even if Italy isn't anywhere close to their talent level. When you respect the game and play the right way, the Basketball Gods reward you. It's honestly as simple as that. Team USA continued to do that, and as a result, the scoreboard continued to reflect it
All in all, Team USA gave us about as dominant of a performance as you could have in this game. A complete and utter ass kicking, and the scary part is they can be even better. Anthony Edwards finished just 1-6. I don't know what's going on with JJJ, but he's basically only out there getting cardio and fouling people. They turned it over 17 times which wasn't exactly great.
Looking ahead, they'll face the winner of Germany/Latvia, and given how well Germany has looked at the World Cup, it feels like we're destined for a rematch after Team USA came back from 16 to beat Germany in their final tune up game. I'll remind you that Ant had 34 in that win, but Germany does have a handful of quality NBA players, so Team USA cannot assume things will go the same way as today. Italy and Germany could not be more different.
The good news is Team USA looks like a team that took their wake-up call over the weekend to heart and is now just one win away from the Finals. They've already gone further than the 2019 FIBA team, but there's still more work to be done.