SAITAMA, Japan -- So far, no one at the FIBA World Championship
has figured out how to counter Team USA's superior skills,
athleticism and depth. Germany provided a clue Wednesday night.
The Germans packed the paint and forced the Americans to fire
from afar. The strategy worked for a half before the U.S. pulled
away for an 85-65 victory.
It may have been the scariest 20-point win in team history. The
Americans struggled against the Germans' zone defense and were out
of sync for much of the night.
The Americans' performance provided a glimmer of hope for
defense-oriented Greece, which faces the U.S. in the semifinals
Friday. Spain and Argentina, which meet in the other semifinal,
also will take note.
"I'm sure we're going to see a lot of zone," U.S. guard Kirk Hinrich said. "We have up 'til now, and I'm sure we will the remainder of the games. And that's fine. We've got guys who can make shots, and for whatever reason we just didn't do that tonight."
Indeed, the U.S. struggled through its worst shooting
performance -- 38 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3-point
range -- in seven games.
The only worse shooting came from German star Dirk Nowitzki, who
finished with more turnovers (five) than baskets (three). He was
3-for-12 from the floor and finished with 15 points, tied for the
team high with Ademola Okulaja.
The Americans' leading scorer was Carmelo Anthony, who scored 19 points but was 2-for-12 in the first half.
"My shot wasn't falling, but we're going to have nights like
that when shots don't fall," said Anthony, who went 5-for-7 after
halftime. "We keep shooting. We know we're capable of making those
shots. Coach [Mike Krzyzewski] told us to keep shooting. That's
what we did."
The U.S. is at its most potent when it is running the floor and
attacking the basket. But it launched 40 of its 85 shots from
beyond the 3-point arc.
At halftime, this looked like the nightmare scenario envisioned
by skeptics who have questioned the Americans' shooting touch.
German coach Dirk Bauermann packed the lane with a zone defense and
dared the Americans to fire away from outside.
Others have tried to do the same thing, but this time the
"We switched our defense and played a lot of zone in the first
half," Bauermann said. "In the second half, they turned up the
heat and played a great defensive game, and when you play like that
you can beat anyone and win the gold."
The U.S. pulled away with defense and rebounding. It pressured
the Germans into 24 turnovers and hammered them 48-34 on the
backboards, including a 22-6 advantage on the offensive glass.
"The U.S. was better defensively," Bauermann said. "They
turned us over and killed us on the offensive glass."
True enough. The U.S. is two wins away from its first gold medal
since 1994 in this competition. But it will take more than
rebounding and defense to mount the winner's podium on Sunday
The Americans didn't appear medal-worthy for much of Wednesday
Dwyane Wade went 1-for-11 from the floor and fired two air balls
from beyond the arc. Shane Battier missed all three 3-pointers he
tried. LeBron James was 6-for-10 from the floor but had seven
"We weren't taking bad shots," said Wade, who left the game
for a few minutes after taking an inadvertent shot to the face from
Germany's Pascal Roller. "They were open looks."
Given its dreadful shooting, the U.S. seemed fortunate to take a
40-39 lead into the dressing room. One reason: The Americans kept
Nowitzki off balance by running platoons of defenders at him.
"We tried to give him different looks and not try to send him
to the free-throw line," Anthony said. "That's his moneymaker
right there. Just playing against him all year long, we kind of
knew some of the stuff he was capable of doing."
At halftime, Krzyzewski decided to turn up the defensive
pressure. Smart move. The Germans turned the ball over 13 times in
the second half, and that allowed the U.S. to take control.
With three steals in the second half, Anthony was among the
U.S.' most active defenders. In a dazzling one-minute sequence in
the third quarter, the Denver star dunked on a fastbreak, nailed a
3-pointer and then stole a pass and cruised in for a breakaway
"You've got to do little things to try to find your rhythm,"
Anthony sparked an 18-4 run that gave the U.S. a commanding
60-45 lead. The Germans never threatened again. But they had thrown
a scare into the U.S. while providing new hope for the rest of the
"We missed a lot of shots but defensively did what we had to
do," Krzyzewski said. "We won even though we missed a lot of