Late Monday night, the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team boarded a plane for London, after defeating the Brazilian national team 80-69 at Verizon Center. The game provided the perfect finale for three days of military-themed events for Team USA in the nation’s capital.
The weekend began with a tribute to America’s fallen heroes at Arlington National Cemetery, and included a practice and a scrimmage at the D.C. Armory on Saturday for soldiers and their families. On Sunday, the team conducted a shootaround and scrimmage for invited guests at George Washington University.
At Monday’s exhibition game, President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. were in attendance and got ovations nearly as loud as those for D.C. native Kevin Durant and Baltimore native Carmelo Anthony. Durant thanked the fans for their support and vowed that Team USA would do their best to bring home a gold medal. Anthony thanked the troops for their support and their sacrifice for America.
When the game finally tipped off, the U.S. team got off to a slow start, falling behind Brazil by as many as 10 points. The U.S. team had some trouble combatting the size of the Brazilian squad, which has three 6-foot-11 centers; Nene (Wizards), Tiago Splitter (Spurs) and Anderson Varejao (Cavaliers). The U.S. team has only one true center, 7-foot-1 Tyson Chandler (Knicks).
“Rebounding is our achilles heel because of our lack of size,” Kobe Bryant said. “We have to make a concerted effort to get to the elbows and put bodies on bodies and get rebounds. This was our first opportunity to play against a team that has a great deal of size.”
It took a 9-0 run by the U.S. team in the second quarter to close the gap, as they pulled ahead by five at halftime.
“Our defense got us back in the game,” Bryant said. “We made some adjustments. They did a fantastic job offensively in terms of counter-punching what we were doing.”
LeBron James led all scorers with 30 points, Durant had 11 and Chris Paul scored 10.
“We were a little bit over-aggressive at first, but we’re going to start every game like that to see how teams handle our pressure,” Paul said. “In the second quarter, we settled down and defended.”
“We ended up shooting too many jump shots in the first quarter, and we did not have defensive intensity,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “If this team doesn’t have that, we’re going to get scored on. If we win the gold medal, it will be because of how well we played defensively.”
For the Brazilian team, Alex Garcia led the way with 14 points and Varejao scored 12.
“We tried to do what we could,” Nene said. “We tried to get physical on defense and neutralize their shots. That worked in the first half, but these guys are great. We lost control a little bit in the third quarter, but I think we did really good.”
“This game is going to be in our memory, because we don’t play the best team in the world everyday.”