The first question people were going to ask after an 83 point win was this: did the U.S. run the score up?
Well, no. As Coach K pointed out, they sat Kobe and King James in the second half, they played zone and they quit fast breaking in the fourth quarter. But as K went on to point out, they're required to shoot ever 24 seconds, and the shots went in. What can you do?
Check this out: the team shot 71% from the floor and 63% from three point range. Great trivia question: how many times has a team shot better from the floor overall and three point range than they did from the foul line? With the team shooting 64% from the line, the U.S. came very close to that remarkable inversion.
James Harden (3-8) was the only guy who didn't shoot well. But look at Kobe, Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams and Carmelo Anthony: they combined to shoot 31-38 (81.5%) overall and 17-21(80.9%) from the bonusphere.
For another bit of perspective, consider minutes played: Kobe and LeBron got 11, Kevin Durant 17, Westbrook 14 and Williams 18. And Anthony? He scored 37 points in 14 minutes.
For another, consider this: despite the U.S. easing off, other than shots going in, Nigeria scored less in each subsequent quarter: 25, 20, 17 and 11.
After the games against Spain (exhibition), France, and now Nigeria, the U.S. has sent a message loud and clear. The questions now are these: have they intimidated the rest of the field and secondarily, are they buying into the inevitability crap?
Lithuania surely took note of the Thursday massacre, but they are almost always tough. Plus they have the best scout in the field: Marty Pocius knows exactly what Coach K's tendencies are, and probably his weaknesses as well.
And bear this in mind as well: a team is never going to be more vulnerable than it is the game after a brilliant performance. Nobody maintains that level, not this team, not the 1992 team, no one.
We have no doubt that Coach K will have them prepared Saturday, but there is a potential emotional cliff, and Lithuania will be more than happy to push the U.S. off if they have the chance.
The surest way to avoid it is to push defense to the same level offense was against Nigeria. As great as Thursday's explosion was, the enduring advantage the U.S. has is on the other end.
Thursday's other results:
- France 82, Lithuania 74
- Australia 81, China 61
- Argentina 92, Tunisia 69
- Russia 75, Brazil 74
- Spain 79, Great Britain 78