LAS VEGAS -- The level of competition will be significantly more difficult in Beijing, but the United States has a blue print in place that will prove to be unbeatable if executed properly. Very simply, no one star is bigger than the team.
Credit Kobe Bryant for helping foster that atmosphere.
|Kobe Bryant attempts only three shots in the title game. (US Presswire)|
In Sunday's gold medal game, a 118-81 rout that was never in doubt, he inexplicably took a forced off-balance jumper on the U.S.'s first possession, got that out of his system and then became an assist-machine, firing off alley-oops and outlet passes, choosing to involve himself the best way possible for his team.
He put his money where his mouth is on his stated desire that this second part of his career is all about team accomplishments, and that's going to include this international portion. He took only three shots against Argentina, making one and finishing with a 15.3 scoring average, third-best on the U.S. squad, but his eight assists and unselfishness were a major reason the team thrived so easily.
"With Kobe, he brings a leader. He's a tough-minded guy," said Carmelo Anthony, who led the U.S. in scoring with a 21.2 scoring average. "It's not just him. We have Jason Kidd, we have Chauncey (Billups) we have Amare (Stoudemire) back here from working with us last summer ..."
Anthony can go on and on and name the entire roster if he wants to. Everyone is vital in his own way in what became a case of getting in where you fit in.
Kidd finished last on the team in scoring and didn't even attempt a shot in the title game, but ended up with 46 assists against just five turnovers. Dwight Howard and Stoudemire clogged up the middle and were the team's top rebounders.
LeBron James and Anthony were the primary scorers, benefiting from last season's experience at the World Championships. The game definitely becomes easier when you're familiar with all the rules. Bryant, playing international ball for the first time, smartly felt his way through it, but shouldn't get any ideas for Beijing.
If for some reason the United States needs a game-winning shot at any point in the Olympics, then it would be fine to isolate for him and let him do his thing, but in the flow of the game, going one-on-one would only work to put shackles on an imposing offense that averaged 116.7 points per game in 10 games here.
"Kobe's not just the top perimeter player which I think is a good statement to the rest of the team," coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "It's as if he said, 'Hey I've scored 50 points a few times in NBA games but I want that good shooter or that scorer.' I've been pleased with the trend.
"I'd just like to mention Dwyane Wade. We don't have Dwyane like we did last summer. Kobe this summer helped in that regard. When we get (Wade) back, that will make us seem stronger. We sense the commitment from these guys and it shows in a guy like Dwyane Wade. He's here. He's supporting these guys and that's the type of camaraderie that we've developed."
Barring unforeseen absences, expect Wade to be integrated in a sixth-man role that he'll be happy to play, because you would hope that the precedent has been set that everyone on the U.S. roster is willing to swallow their pride and do whatever it takes to claim gold.