For decades, the USA’s international basketball strategy has been to use their superior athleticism to run past whoever they played. Nobody wanted to get in a track meet with the Americans.
Germany did on Friday and knocked Team USA out of the World Cup.
Germany played faster than any team has against the USA, exposed the American’s defense with that space, plus forced cross-matches they could exploit, all of which led to big nights from Andreas Obst (24 points) and the Magic’s Franz Wagner (22). The result was a 113-111 win for Germany, the biggest
The win advances Germany to the gold medal game against Serbia on Sunday. The USA will play for the bronze against Canada earlier on Sunday.
“Terrible,” was how Jalen Brunson described the USA’s effort, via the Associated press. “Plain and simple.”
The USA offense was not the issue — they had an eFG% of 67.7%, led by Anthony Edwards with 23 points and Austin Reaves with 21.
The problem was the USA could not get stops against a German squad that could handle their ball pressure thanks to Raptors point guard Dennis Schroder, plus plenty of size to create mismatches all over the court. Whether it was Tyrese Haliburton struggling to navigate screens, slow rotations in the paint or Reaves getting posted up, Germany found the soft spots in the American defenses.
“If you give up 113 points in a 40-minute game, you’re not going to win many of those,” Reaves said.
“Well, they got a lot of big strong guys in there on switches. They did a good job of executing, and of course on the switch Schroder’s attacking and so they put a lot of stress on your defense,” USA coach Steve Kerr said, via Joe Viray. “Just give them credit, they outplayed us.”
The USA’s defensive strategy for the World Cup was ball pressure from their athletes and having NBA Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr. as a back-line stopper. However, from early on in the tournament the flaws in that plan were exposed as Jackson was pulled out of the paint by switches or bigs who could shoot — the Pacers’ Daniel Theis in this game, who had 21 points on 10-of-15 shooting — or Jackson just got in foul trouble. When any of that happened Kerr leaned hard into a small ball lineup and he did that against Germany with a lot of Paolo Banchero at the five.
That plan didn’t work against teams with size and good execution, such as Lithuania (who beat the USA in the group stage) or Germany.
Heading into Paris for the Olympics next summer (Team USA did qualify for the games) Kerr and USA Basketball head honcho Grant Hill need to recruit more versatile bigs such as Anthony Davis and Bam Adebayo, who would have helped in this tournament. A lot of top NBA talent will want to play in Paris, but as this loss showed cohesion is the issue more than talent.
The USA’s defensive issues against Germany started from the opening tip, with the German offense getting whatever it wanted early, which lead to as much as a 10-point lead in the first quarter (25-15). As it has all tournament, the USA bench changed the dynamic, started getting buckets at a high rate, and the team fought back to be down 33-31 after one quarter in a game where defense felt optional at points.
The fast tempo and back-and-forth game continued through the second, with the USA leading 60-59 at the half. The USA had a 147.6 offensive rating in the first half, Germany 145.1. Anthony Edwards and Mikal Bridges each had 15 in the first half and Austin Reaves had 10 off the bench (but became harder to play the Laker star because Germany was targeting him on switches and posting him up with their bigs, as Lithuania had done). Franz Wagner had 14 for the Germans at the half, Daniel Theis 13.
In the second half Germany sent two defenders at Edwards every time he had the ball coming off a screen, they were determined not to let him repeat the tune-up game when he scored 34 and led an American comeback win. It still almost did not work.
Germany led by double digits at points in the fourth quarter, but in the final four minutes the pace slowed down and the USA came close to completing the dramatic comeback win. In the end, it was a 3-pointer from Obst that proved to be the deciding shot — and summed up the game for the USA defense.
The USA was without Brandon Ingram for this game due to an upper respiratory illness, the team said. His status for Sunday against Canada is unknown.