Almost two days removed from showing its inexperience on the Olympic stage and as a team, the United States’ men’s basketball team faces its first true test of the 2016 Rio Games when it takes on Australia for first-place in Group A Wednesday night at Barra Carioca Arena 1.
Team USA eventually walked away with a blowout 113-69 victory over Venezuela and improved to 2-0 behind forward Paul George’s 20 points (14 in the fourth quarter), but sloppy passing, defense, and turnovers in the first quarter were the first signs of weakness in the NBA “Super Team.”
The U.S. remains firmly in first place in Group A, but didn’t look like such a dominant squad after an 18-18 first quarter with the Venezuelans. The majority of Team USA’s 11 turnovers came in the first stanza, and George, Kevin Durant, and DeMarcus Cousins were each called for fouls twice which allowed Venezuela to slow the pace and go 9-for-10 from the free throw line to keep the matchup close.
However, the U.S. adjusted and exploded for a 24-4 run to close the second quarter and took a commanding 48-26 halftime lead that it would never relinquish.
Guard Jimmy Butler, who totaled 17 points, said the team specifically addressed how it was playing defense, and how it could avoid whistles.
“Basically the first thing we talked about was guard without fouling,” Butler said. “We used our hands a little bit too much, bailing them out on a lot of their baskets. We just have to get off to a better, faster start, which we know. We can’t dig ourselves a hold. When we pick it up, we’re really hard to match up with. The way we play defense, if we guard like that for 40 straight minutes, we’ll be in a great position to win.”
A solid defensive effort throughout the game will be quite necessary against a perfect 2-0 Australia, which features five NBA players, including center Andrew Bogut (formerly teammates with Team USA’s Klay Thompson and Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors), and guards Matthew Dellevedova and Patty Mills.
The Australians, who have reached the Olympic quarterfinals the last two Games, throttled a solid Serbia squad 95-80 on Monday, with Mills netting 26 points on 8-for-17 shooting and Dellevedova pouring in 23 points and 13 assists.
Bogut owned the glass for 12 rebounds and chipped in nine points while dishing out six more assists.
And Australia’s two other NBA players, the Detroit Pistons’s Aron Baynes and the Utah Jazz’s Joe Ingles, each fired off 10 points while the team shot a solid 49.2 percent from the field.
Tip-off: Wednesday, 6 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC Sports Network
Live Online: NBC Live Extra