Apologies for the tardiness of this report. The site was down last night by the time I finished writing it, and with an early morning awaiting me, I didn't have time to wait for it to come back up. Better late than never I guess...
They're Baaaack - Brazil Uses Suns-like Approach in Win Over Mexico (104-90)
They ran the floor, moved the ball, shot threes, and played with all the heart they could muster. Brazil looked positively Suns-like at times as they ran their way to an easy victory over Mexico a day after looking downright listless against Puerto Rico. It didn't start out that way, though. The first quarter was about as tight as it gets, with Mexico even leading for much of it. But Brazil absolutely came alive in the second quarter, outscoring Mexico by 12 to take a 14-point lead into the half. The momentum carried over into the third quarter as well, and by the time Mexico made a run against Brazil's second unit in the fourth to bring the final score within the range of respectability, it was far too late to change the outcome.
Brazil was once again led in scoring by Leandro Barbosa who also had five assists and two steals to go with his 21 points. He shot 8-13, including 3-4 from three, and had the play of the game (both mine and the announcers') when he touch-passed an assist to Nene while spinning around on the move. Nene was also impressive, shooting a whopping 7-10 for 17 points to go with three assists, seven rebounds, and two blocks. Brazil put five players in double figures, and used 31 assists to do it. If that's not Suns basketball, I don't know what is.
Mexico didn't just lay down, though. They were obviously outmatched against a Brazilian team playing to its full potential, but those guys hustled to the very end, even in the face of a seemingly insurmountable 27-point deficit at one point. Unfortunately, their greatest strength might have also been their greatest weakness tonight. Romel Beck has been getting rave reviews for that move he put on Kobe Bryant in yesterday's game against Team USA. He was the star for his team tonight as well, putting in a game-high 29 points on 10-14 shooting, including 4-7 from three. But maybe he's been watching Kobe a little too much. At times it seemed like his team kind of stood around and watched him work, thereby killing the ball movement they had going earlier in the game when they played Brazil to a near draw in the first quarter. I'm not sure any amount of ball movement would have saved them, though--Brazil was simply in the zone tonight. This was easily the best game I've seen them play so far in this tournament. Glad to see they took my advice and started running. Like I said in my game report last night, good things happen for them when they do.
Player of the Game: I could give this to a lot of guys tonight, all equally deserving. I'll play the "homer" card and give it to Leandro.
Runner-Up: Romel Beck gets this spot as the best player for Mexico in this game.
Random Thoughts: Leandro may be the most ego-less player in the NBA. I know he can dunk. I've seen him do it before, albeit on very rare occasions. So, tonight, when he had a break away, and was all by himself with absolutely no one in the vicinity or even on his end of the floor, he did what 99 out of 100 NBA players would do and threw it down, right? Nope. He just put in the most calm, expressionless layup you can imagine. Nothing fancy, no showboating, nothing. He just got his two points, then politely set the ball on the floor and ran back on defense. Vintage Leandro.
Amare Breaks Out in USA Victory Over Puerto Rico (117-78)
FIBA America's version of "Groundhog Day" continues as Team USA again played circles around their opponent, and came away with yet another easy blowout win. In the process they clinched a birth in the next round, and remain undefeated at 6-0 (5-0 in the standings since the win against the now-eliminated Virgin Islands doesn't count).
Since I raved about assists in the Brazil game, I'll start by mentioning Deron Williams' seven assists in this game. On a night when even Bill Walton was calling out Kobe Bryant and others for failing to pass to open teammates, this was pretty impressive. LeBron James also did well at sharing with four assists to go with his 21 points and four rebounds. That may not sound all that impressive, but he was absolutely on fire tonight, shooting 8-10, including 3-5 from three. He struggled a bit from the free throw line, but then so did his entire team, shooting only 11-23. Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant each shot 6-11 from the field for 17 and 14 points respectively. Fairly solid night from the "big three" overall.
From a Suns fan's perspective, the story of the night was the resurgence of Amare Stoudemire. Amare's performance in this tournament coming into tonight had been understated to say the least. Some of that was his fault, and some of it was simply a lack of opportunity. He may come away from this experience with renewed appreciation for teammates Steve Nash, Shawn Marion, and Boris Diaw. He no doubt misses Steve's passing as he stands in the paint waiting to receive a ball that never comes. He's also learning what it's like for Shawn when plays aren't run for him, and for Diaw in having to find his role on a team that already has plenty of offense from others. And it probably hasn't helped that a lot of his minutes have come in garbage time (with garbage time starting as early as the second quarter sometimes). All of this has culminated into Amare looking a bit like a fish out of water at times. He hasn't played awful by any stretch, but he hasn't been his usual ferocious self either.
Tonight, Amare took the floor with a two and a half minutes left in the first quarter and went to work from the start. He got to the line almost immediately, and grabbed three rebounds right off the bat. By the time he had left the floor in the second quarter, he already had nine points and five rebounds in just six minutes of play. He continued his assault on the boards in the second half, and ended up with eight rebounds to tie Tyson Chandler for the game high. He only scored 12 points, but that's because he took just four shots. He missed only once, a mistake he immediately corrected by grabbing his own rebound and putting it back. He even hit a three, much to the disdain of Bill Walton. The only thing limiting Amare tonight was playing time and touches. He played only 14 minutes, and made the most of every one.
Player of the Game: The Suns fan in me wants to give this spot to Amare, but it really belongs to LeBron James.
Runner-Up: Ok, I just can't resist. Amare it is. Besides, nobody for Puerto Rico was particularly that impressive.
Random Thoughts: Near the end of the first half as Kobe Bryant forced up yet another shot--this one happening to make--Bill Walton made the following observation (roughly paraphrased): Kobe's circus shots are crowd-pleasing when they go in, but he could do so much more psychological damage to the opponent--and open the lane for himself--if he would pass off the ball to an open teammate (such as Amare standing right under the basket on this particular play) instead of forcing his way over and through multiple defenders. To back up his point, he mentioned a quote Kobe made during the Suns-Lakers series about how hard it was to dribble through four defenders. Something tells me Walton has spent many a night screaming at the TV while watching his son play spectator to Kobe's "greatness".