Rudy Gay and Kevin Durant Impress in USA Showcase
The USA basketball showcase, where Jerry Colangelo showed off what was deemed as ‘the future of U.S.A. basketball,” was an all-star type experience. The intra-squad game was a simulation of international rules, with international referees and the players came ready to show their worth to Coach K, Jay Triano, Nate McMillan, Dave Cowens, Jerry Sichtin, Kenny Gattison, Tyrone Corbin and main decision-maker Colangelo.
We documented Wednesday’s practice and discussed the chances of these players making the cut for Team U.S.A. here. And now, here is how the game went down.
The starting Line-ups for the teams were:
Team Blue: Derrick Rose, O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay, Jeff Green, and Greg Oden.
Team White: Russell Westbrook, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant, Josh Smith, and Brook Lopez.
Greg Oden involved himself early with 2 blocked shots to protect the basket and a nice baseline jumper. He looked very good, and has as good a shot as anyone to make team USA based on his performance over the past three days. He is still quiet on offense, but he fills a role as an undeniable presence in the paint, which the USA squads from the 90s always had. At the very least he will make the Portland Trailblazers a better team than their 54 win season last year, especially with Andre Miller getting him the ball in the right spots.
Ronnie Brewer gave the crowd a reason to cheer with a two hand alley-oop reverse dunk after catching the ball at waist level, showing off his athleticism. He played excellent defense as well throughout the contest racking up 6 steals by the end. O.J. Mayo made a statement by hitting several shots in rhythm in the first quarter. He came out with a serious demeanor and facial expression.
Anthony Randolph showed off his guard skills from the power forward position taking the ball up the court on a couple possessions. He came out active and played well. JaVale McGee grabbed at least two rebounds over Kevin Love, even though Love was boxing McGee out both times. Love just doesn’t have the athleticism to hang with some of these players.
It was at this time that Michael Beasley walked in the gym and sat courtside. He looked very trim, as if he’d lost 10 lbs this offseason. He was sporting cornrows, a long Darius Miles goatee and a stylish pair of glasses he found in my 7th grade science classroom. He immediately started heckling Russell Westbrook and Eric Gordon during the first dead ball, getting smiles out of both of them.
Meanwhile, Rudy Gay was playing excellent defense on Kevin Durant, denying him the ball and had a sweet flush coming down the lane, dunking over his head as he flew past the hoop. He hit a couple jump starts and seemed to be off to a fast start to the game. With 15 points on six of seven shooting, Gay was certainly the best player in the first half – mostly because it took Kevin Durant a little while to put together consecutive baskets. Durant ended the first half with a quiet 11 points, six of which were free throws.
Jeff Green hit a three and played his all around athletic game, cleaning up offensive boards and taking the ball to the basket off the dribble to get at the rim. He is very difficult to guard for even these power forwards when he’s playing aggressively. Brook Lopez played sound defense on Oden and had a nice slam midway through the 2nd quarter. Right now he’s at the same level as Oden, if not better, simply because his fundamentals are so good and he knows how to bang in the paint.
The first half ended with the Blue team down only one point despite shooting only 38% from the floor. The second half began with Kevin Durant asserting himself by scoring from several spots on the floor. Anthony Randolph again took the ball up the court himself, and then continued going coast to coast down the middle of the floor with one of the day’s best dunks. This play was followed up by several blocked shots of note. JaVale McGee used his monstrous length to swat Kevin Love, then Andre Iguodala blocked a Paul Millsap shot on a slow break and Josh Smith sent an O.J. Mayo attempt out into the crowd emphatically. The pace was much like an all-star game at this point.
Iguodala followed up his block a few plays later with a creative high-flying dunk off of a Kevin Durant feed that brought the crowd and Michael Beasley to their feet. Kyle Korver hit a three and another jumper after missing his first couple attempts in the first half. And then, Russell Westbrook stole the inbounds pass for the second time in the game and threw down a quick two hand dunk to give the Blue team a 30 to 17 advantage in the third period, behind Kevin Durant’s leadership.
The fourth quarter began with Devin Harris yet to play a single minute. He would go on to not play at all, for reasons not yet known. O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay tried their best to bring the White team back into the game. Mayo continued his no-nonsense shooting by hitting three deep buckets in a row, two of which were three pointers. He appeared to be hot, and began to shoot out of the rhythm of the team. He did however do a valiant job manning the point in Devin Harris’ absence for a stretch of time, showing up Derrick Rose and D.J. Augustine on separate plays. Gay made a nice step back jumper towards the right baseline and got an offensive rebound put-back over Oden. He then hit a three to keep the White team alive.
Russell Westbrook then gave the White team a window of opportunity by making two poor decisions with post entry passes to Brook Lopez, who wasn’t ready the first time and another which was simply ill-advised and resulted in an immediate turnover. Yet his OKC teammate Kevin Durant kept the blue team ahead by 9 with a couple timely baskets.
Greg Oden kept gobbling up defensive rebounds and Rudy Gay rose up and nailed another three, to give him a game high 27 points on 11 of 12 field goals including three of four three pointers - but it was too little too late for the white team. The game got a little sloppy with two minutes to go after several turnovers resulted in an up and down pace, as if it were the McDonalds’ All American game. Derrick Rose dribbled the ball off his foot – an uncharacteristic play for him - with 45 seconds to go and another basket wasn’t made by either team the rest of the contest. The clock ticked away in unspectacular fashion. Derrick Rose had an underwhelming performance, similar to Wednesday’s practice. He blew by Westbrook in the open floor on one occasion, but had 4 turnovers to his 2 assts and 6 pts overall.
This performance probably shouldn’t impact his chances to make the USA team, however. As he and Durant (20 pts) are obviously the most talented kids out here. The players on these two teams were playing for a spot on the team, yet only 3-5 players will actually make it onto Team U.S.A. In this game these young stars were playing as individuals. They weren’t always in synch because they weren’t actually a team yet, which has been the general complaint of American basketball in international competitions recently. Thus this even served it’s purpose, and it’s purpose was clear: get these young kids exposure to this type of environment so they learn how to play together.
Look for Jerry Colangelo and company to select players who fit into the team concept. Obviously it depends on what the team needs, and which of the top players who have given verbal commitment will keep their word and actually show up to play, but look for them to stay away from inconsistent super-athlete types like Westbrook and Iguodala. I bet they will select Durant and Rose purely for talent reasons, and then specialists like Oden, Brewer, or Korver to round out the roster. Yet I wouldn’t be surprised if someone steady like Brook Lopez or Jeff Green made it, but it’s not likely.
After the game O.J. Mayo summed up the experience of playing for U.S.A. Basketball’s select team as an honor. “You see these soldiers right here [honored at half time] and they’re fighting for our country, and we are too in basketball.” This statement not only displayed Mayo’s strong character, but was exactly the type of perspective that the these players should gain from international competition in order to be better role models back home.