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U.S. men’s basketball picks up much needed win against Iran

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Scattered thoughts from USA men’s basketball’s 120–66 win over Iran on Wednesday …

· Team USA needed this. After splitting four exhibition games in Las Vegas and getting out-executed by France in the Olympic opener, the U.S. blitzed Iran early, jumping out to a 28–12 first-quarter lead, expanding the lead to 30 at halftime and turning the final 20 minutes into expanded garbage time. I get it—it’s Iran, a team devoid of NBA talent (36-year old Hamed Haddadi spent five seasons in the NBA between 2008 and ’13). But the U.S was sharp from three early (6–12 in the first quarter), played turnover-free ball for the first 10 minutes and moved the ball better than it had at any point in this 2021 cycle.

· Welcome back, Blazers Dame! Lillard erased the memory of an 11-point game against France with 21 against Iran. Lillard set the tone early, connecting on six threes in the first half. USA Basketball has a collection of good players, but only a handful of alphas. Lillard is one of them, and his ability to take over a game early will be huge for this team. “Being aggressive,” Lillard said. “That’s my primary focus.”

· Against France, the U.S. shot 31.2 per cent from three while attempting nearly as many shots from beyond the arc (32) as inside it (37). The U.S. was just as prolific against Iran (39 attempts) but significantly sharper (48.7 per cent). Team USA’s offence will continue lean heavily on three’s; NBA players, who for years have had the idea that any three-point shot is better than a mid-range two drilled into their skulls, will continue to bomb away. But they have good shooters and if they move the ball the way they did against Iran (34 assists), they will get quality looks.

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· Again, it’s Iran, but the U.S. ratcheted up the defensive intensity on Wednesday, forcing Iran into 23 turnovers, holding the Iranians to 37.3 per cent from the floor, 34.6 per cent from three and playing relatively foul-free ball (Iran attempted just 13 free throws to the U.S.’s 18). Team USA has terrific defensive versatility—Jerami Grant made an early appearance against Iran—and showed it on Wednesday, flying around the perimeter contesting shots. The U.S. is the rare international team completely committed to man-to-man defence, and they have the talent to excel at it.

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· JaVale McGee picked up a few first half minutes. McGee played solid defence against Haddadi, picking up an early steal. McGee’s place on Team USA has been questioned by many—including me—but with some big teams (Spain, France) looming in the medal rounds, a productive McGee could be useful.

· Next up: Czech Republic on Saturday. Or, in America: Team USA against Bulls guard Tomas Satoransky. Satoransky sent Canada home during the Olympic qualifiers. Can he do the same to the U.S.?

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