Anthony Davis led the way to a 95-78 win over Brazil at the United Center in USA Basketball's first exhibition game, but despite the 23-point margin it wasn't all smooth sailing for Coach K and the Americans.
Team USA impressed in the first quarter, out-scoring Brazil 29-15, but the game's second frame was a different story entirely. The offense was totally stagnant for large portions of the quarter, as Brazil mounted an 18-6 run capped off by a left-handed layup from Tiago Splitter out of a post move that cut the USA lead to two points at 35-33. The Americans managed to pick things up from there, closing the half on a Derrick Rose coast-to-coast buzzer-beating floater that put the exclamation point on a 10-2 run and extended the USA lead to 45-37 at the break.
The basketball was at its sloppiest in the third quarter. Lots of turnovers and disjointed play made the game downright unwatchable at times, and Brazil capitalized by taking the quarter 26-23 and cutting the USA lead to five points going into the fourth. The offense finally picked up steam in the fourth quarter. A James Harden and-one layup and a monstrous Anthony Davis alley oop slam into the face of Splitter highlighted a 12-2 run that gave the USA an 80-65 lead, their largest of the night. The Brazilians were unable to make a comeback, as the USA took the win 95-78 in the first of four exhibition games leading up to the inaugural FIBA World Cup.
Kenneth Faried: Faried was unexpectedly slotted into the USA's starting lineup at the four, but the move paid off as he was one of the most impressive players of the night, seemingly looking like the best player on the floor in portions of the first quarter. Just like we're used to seeing from him in Denver, Faried attacked the glass on seemingly every possession and made numerous hustle plays throughout the game. He finished the game with 11 points and nine rebounds in just under 23 minutes of court time. I don't think Faried is best suited as USA's starting power forward, but if he makes the cut he could be a valuable member of the team at the World Cup.
Anthony Davis: Davis did everything. The 21-year-old had 20 points and five blocks to lead the USA, and threw down a couple of monster alley oop dunks along the way. It wasn't all dunks either, as he knocked down looks from mid-range as well. There was a scary moment in the fourth quarter when he dove into the crowd after a loose ball and was slow to get up, but Davis remained in the game and continued to dominate. With Durant out of the mix, Davis could be the USA's best player in Spain.
Rudy Gay: He couldn't dribble. He couldn't score. He couldn't really do much of anything productive. He had one nice put-back slam, but also looked invisible for much of his time on the court. Gay was called in after Durant's departure, so he hasn't had much time to practice and gel with the rest of the team which could be a reason for the poor performance. Rudy was never going to be able to replace Durant's output, but expecting him to be able to fill in as a suitable small-ball four or swingman is a more than reasonable expectation. It's not panic time yet, since he still has two exhibition games in New York City this week before the team heads to Spain for the final exhibition with (probably) the final roster.
The Incredibly Ugly
The Basketball: There were some flashes of beautiful basketball — mostly Anthony Davis dunks and Brazil's sometimes Spursian ball movement — but on the whole it was a very sloppy, disjointed, and plain old bad game of basketball. The third quarter in particular was painful to watch, and if I wasn't planning on writing this story I probably would've turned off the TV altogether. The USA did enough to get the win, but it was neither encouraging nor aesthetically pleasing.