Olympics Games Recap: USA 113 – Venezuela 69


Team USA followed their opening rout of China with a 44 point victory over Venezuela. Leading the US in scoring was Paul George with 20 points on a scorching 85.7% shooting. John Cox, cousin of Kobe Bryant, led Venezuela with 19 points. Though the final score doesn’t illustrate it, this is the first game in which the US has faced adversity.

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Early on, the Americans got into foul trouble. An important rule difference to note here is that in FIBA ball, players are ejected after five fouls, unlike the NBA where they are ejected after six. Star centre DeMarcus Cousins racked up two fouls early and was pulled after just two minutes of play. However, the stringent foul calling continued, with many American players getting whistled for little bumps. This early foul trouble led Team USA to shy away from their usual, physical brand of defense, which opened up the floor for the Venezuelans. The Venezuelan guards, most notably John Cox, were getting into the paint with remarkable ease and were drawing help defense from DeAndre Jordan. By pulling DJ away from the rim, Gregory Echenique, Venezuela’s big-bodied centre, was able to go to work on the offensive glass. Echenique’s play didn’t stop there; though undersized in height the 300 lb centre put up an admirable fight against Cousins on defense. His strength frustrated Cousins into committing offensive fouls and allowed Gregory to bully US players out of the paint to secure offensive rebounds. Echenique even showed some finesse from the post, but having the US send a double team to strip the ball from him quickly shut that down.

The game remained close until three minutes into the second quarter. With the starters back in, USA finally found their groove and began pouring in the points while shutting down the Venezuelans. That quarter marked a 30-8 run by the Americans that sent the game out of reach. Again in the third quarter, the US experienced the same defensive issues, allowing middle penetration, which contributed to the quarter’s score being only 27-25. The fourth quarter, however, became the Paul George show. Backed up by tight defensive coverage and feeds from Kyle Lowry, George went on a tear. DeMar also showed some of his driving ability, getting to the rim with ease and finishing with 8 points.

Kyle Lowry was a major cog in revitalizing Team USA’s offense. His stellar defensive play kept the Venezuelans out of the paint and forced turnovers. His most important contribution was to the fast break offense. With the US in a funk, a Lowry-sparked fast break secured easy points at the rim or free throw line when the Americans were desperate to score. He finished with a game high 9 assists. DeMar provided a scoring punch off the bench and played his role in the US’ defense.

This game showed the vulnerability of Team USA. The team’s biggest offensive strength is the dominance of DeMarcus Cousins. Tonight, we saw how the offense can sputter when DeMarcus fails to bend the will of the defense. In addition to struggles down low, the team also hit a cold shooting streak. It took an almost perfect storm to fluster the Americans, but this game leaves us wondering what would have happened if that first quarter had come against the Serbians, Spanish, or Australians. Facing adversity is always better sooner rather than later in these tournaments, and seeing how the US responded, even just quarter to quarter, maintains my confidence in their gold medal prospects.