If it wasn't clear before, it's become increasingly obvious that having LeBron James on your team is quite helpful. James, despite a pedestrian point total (for him), completely controlled the game from start to finish against Australia. What he lacked in scoring punch James made up everywhere else, posting the first triple-double (11 pts, 14 rebs, 11 asts) in Olympic history.
His performance was integral in keeping a plucky Australian squad at bay. Thanks to some excellent guidance from head coach (and Spurs assistant) Brett Brown, Australia executed very well on both ends of the floor. Patty Mills (another Spurs employee) and NBA prospect Joe Ingles led the Boomers' offensive attack with a combined 45 points.
Ingles in particular was rather impressive. His 19-point, 8-rebound, 6-assist stat line slightly mirrored James' brilliant all-around game. Combined with solid play from former NBA big man David Anderson (11 points) and supersub Brad Newly (10 pts, 4-6 fg), the Aussies made this a game ... for three quarters at least.
In the fourth period, the Boomers' clutch shooting and solid positional defense finally broke down. Kobe Bryant stepped up for the Americans to silence those critical of his Olympic performance with a 3-point barrage that blew the game wide open. The 119-86 final score sullied an otherwise fine performance from the Australians. In the end, their well-executed schemes and gritty play couldn't overcome the one distinct advantage USA Basketball held over them (and the rest of the field) -- talent.
LeBron. On a team full of stars, James has clearly positioned himself as the driving force. Like he was during the Miami Heat's championship run, James is a Swiss army knife of destruction for Team USA's opponents. His level of play makes it seems virtually impossible for the U.S. to be upset in the final two games.
On a team note, it seems as though the added pressure of the medal rounds invigorated Team USA. Their effort and focus were easily as sharp as they have been all tournament. Let’s hope it keeps up, as one lackluster quarter at this stage could have the Americans battling to avoid a historic upset.
Team USA's pick-and-roll coverage still leaves an awful lot to be desired. It seems as though whichever five-man unit is on the floor can never corral both the ball handler and the screener on the same play.
Of the two, the weakside picking up the roll man has been the bigger problem and was evident again Wednesday afternoon. The help defense is still too concerned with pressing passing lanes and sticking tight to shooters rather than slowing the screener diving toward to the rim. While the Aussies, with players like Aaron Baynes, weren't going to do much to exploit that, Spain with the Gasol brothers and Russia with Timofey Mozgov definitely could. The U.S. can certainly make up for this flaw in other ways, but it remains a concern nonetheless.
Argentina gets yet another shot at Team USA on Friday (4 p.m. ET), this time for a berth in the finals. While the first Olympic meeting between the two included a lopsided second half, it did not include the Argentinians'' starting point guard, Pablo Prigioni. Prigioni is now back and was a key contributor (8 assists) in Argentina's quarterfinal win over Brazil.
The "Golden Generation" is on the wrong side of 30 and their squad seemingly lacks the depth to hang with the Americans for a full 40 minutes, but don’t make the mistake of counting them out. This group loves playing together, and with this possibly being their last international competition, they are sure to give an inspired effort in hopes of knocking off bitter rival Team USA to advance to the gold medal game.