USA Takes #1 Seed Into Semi-Finals With Win Over Argentina (91-76)
Very late start time for those of us in the central time zone, thus I'll have to shortchange Team USA a bit for the second night in a row. The Suns fan in me would really just like to forgo this one all together, for reasons that will soon become apparent. But in the interest of being somewhat fair and balanced, here goes...
When this tournament started, I predicted that one way or the other, Kobe Bryant would find a way to rise to the top and become the star for Team USA. It's taken eight games, but it finally happened tonight. Kobe shot 10-15 en route to a game-high 27 points to go with four steals that offset an equal number of turnovers. But more importantly, he really took over and led his team when the game was actually competitive early in the first quarter. His demeanor on the court was a bit off-putting at times to those of us who aren't particularly fond of his arrogant sneers and nods, but I really can't deny that he was the best player on the floor tonight. Amare Stoudemire, on the other hand had his worst game statistically by far in this tournament. He did show some hustle around the rim, and grabbed a couple of boards (three to be exact), but scored only two points, both of which came at the free throw line, and got in foul trouble to boot. I won't put it all on him, because a couple of the fouls called against him were somewhat dubious, and you have to actually have the ball in order to score, but really Amare just wasn't "there" tonight. There were times I didn't even notice he had entered the game (well, that may be partially due to mental exhaustion on my part--it has been a rather long week). In any event, not a good game for Suns fans looking for a big night from Amare, but a great night for Team USA as they move on to the next round still undefeated.
Player of the Game: I will probably have to go throw up and sanitize the keyboard after typing this, but I am forced to admit that Kobe Bryant was the best player in this game. He imposed his will when the game was tight, and more than anyone else, helped set the tone that broke the game open when it was tight early on. I'd love to ding him for not contributing much in the boxscore other than scoring, but I just can't. So congratulations, Kobe. Now, excuse me for a minute. I'll be right back...
Runner Up: Last night I said of Luis Scola regarding his play against Brazil that "Argentina doesn't win this game without him". And sure enough, with Scola in foul trouble tonight, they didn't. I seriously doubt it would have changed the outcome even if Scola had played all 40 minutes, but nobody else on his team even came close to the 20-point, 5 rebound night he put up with 8-10 shooting in only 18 minutes (tell me again why the Spurs couldn't get more for this guy?). Carmelo Anthony (18 points on 6-10 shooting) and LeBron James (15 points, five assists, six rebounds, 6-11 from the field) also made decent cases for runner-up, though as usual, it goes to a player on the losing team when there's a clear standout as there was tonight.
Random Thoughts: Bill Walton seemed a little off his game tonight (pun intended). First he said something about LeBron James' shot being "off" near the end of the first quarter--LeBron had shot once at the time, and he went on to have a fairly nice night from the field. Then later on in the second quarter, Walton mentioned Jack McCallum's book Seven Seconds to Shoot--I don't remember that one, is it a sequel to this? He did give Brazil fans reason to hope, though, with his comments at the end of the game: "The hardest thing to do is beat the same team a second time". Those of us who have kind of "adopted" Brazil as the team we'd like to see finish second in this tournament can only hope this turns out to prove prophetic as Brazil faces Argentina in the semi-finals on Saturday.
Bright Side of the Sun's FIBA Americas "armchair" coverage will take the day off tomorrow as the teams do the same. Hopefully, we can get caught up on actual Suns news around here. Check back Saturday for game threads and recaps for the semi-final round. The broadcasting schedule should be available on NBA.com soon.