On Friday, Team USA had an inter-squad scrimmage pitting the Blue Team against the White Team… and both sides lost. How? One of the would-be key contributors to the final roster, Paul George, suffered a terrible right leg injury. That injury made me sick and is difficult to even write about. I guess I understand now why Kevin Love didn’t show up.
Anyway, here are five observations I gathered from the three-ish quarters that was played.
1) That was awesome, until it wasn’t
That scrimmage was what All-Star games strive to be. Since NBA All-Star games are purely exhibitions, players are usually lethargic and defense exists in name only. This game had the style of an All-Star game and the substance. The Splash Brothers guarding each other, Anthony Davis and Boogie Cousins banging in the paint, and Derrick Rose versus the World were just a few of the matchups that had NBA fans salivating. And since the players were playing for highly competitive and coveted roster spots, they were actually trying.
But honestly, who the hell cares?
If you saw the Paul George injury, you know what I’m talking about. While attempting to block a James Harden fast break layup in LeBron James “from out of nowhere” fashion, Paul George’s right leg awkwardly hit the station that supports the hoop itself. George’s lower leg gruesomely buckled and he was carted off on a stretcher. Coach K rightfully ended the scrimmage before play resumed.
Who knows how this will affect George’s or the Pacers’ future. All that I know is that this wasn’t fair. Paul George was sacrificing his summer to play for team USA when many other stars decided that they rather chill at their house and play 2K or whatever NBA stars do in their free time. Everything George has worked his entire life for may have just gone up in smoke while serving his country in a game that didn’t really count when you consider he was a lock to make the roster. It just doesn’t seem fair.
The ripple effects of George’s injury, on both the foreign and domestic stages, are a topic to discuss at another time. Hopefully Coach K can use George’s injury as a rallying cry to bring the team together. More importantly, hopefully Paul George will be OK.
2) Derrick Rose looks gooooooooood
I had my doubts. There were times where I didn’t think Derrick Rose would ever make it back to his MVP form. I thought that when he inevitably returned to the arduous 82 game trek known as the NBA schedule he would be a shell of his former self; tentative in his cuts, always worried about the freak injury lurking around the corner. Yeah, well, Derrick Rose just told me and everyone else who doubted him, to “shut up” (and some other stuff that I don’t feel comfortable saying in public).
With that same blazing speed and one emphatic slam, Derrick Rose made all the doubts surrounding his future disappear. Poof. One second it was here, the next it was gone. Just like trying to guard Derrick Rose, old or new.
Poof. One second he was here, the next he was gone.
3) Boogie v. Plumlee
One of the biggest plotlines to Friday’s scrimmage was the fight for the backup center spot. Anthony Davis is the clear starter at center for Team America and since America’s roster is heavily saturated with guards, it appears that there is only one opening behind Davis on the final roster.
Brian Windhorst reported that Coach K was leaning toward taking Mason Plumlee over DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins, which caused an uproar among NBA fans. Since this was the most clearly defined roster battle, I decided to keep a close eye on it.
Each player had his ups and downs. Plumlee appeared to lack confidence in the first half. He hesitated to dunk the ball when no one was in front of him and was subsequently stripped. He miscommunicated with Kyle Korver on a pick and roll which led to an uncontested layup. On the very next possession, Plumlee fouled a shooter leading to an and-one. But, in the second half, Plumlee appeared to be a great cog in the larger Team USA engine. He ran the court with gusto, finished an alley oop, had a put-back slam, and even drew a charge on Cousins.
Cousins was the opposite of Plumlee. Instead of starting off slow and picking up steam, he started out fast and struggled as the game wore on. In the first half, Cousins threw some gorgeous outlet passes, was a beast on the boards, and put in great effort. In the second half, Boogie had a terrible turnover which led to the aforementioned Plumlee alley-oop. Afterwards, Boogie looked visibly frustrated and forgot to guard Plumlee the next time down the court leading to a Plum-Dog Millionaire And-One.
Overall, this game didn’t show anything we didn’t already know. DeMarcus Cousins is a far superior talent, but Plumlee is a better fit for America’s intended style of play. So this begs the question: what’s more important, talent or scheme fit?
4) This team is going to run, run, and then run some more
America hounded guards in the backcourt trying to pick up the pace of the game. American guards pushed the ball up court trying to pick up the pace of the game. Oh, and American bigs threw long outlet passes trying to pick up the pace of the game. Coach Krzyzewski understands that his team has an athletic advantage over every other team in the World (literally). Getting out and running, using the full dimensions of the court, will accentuate that athletic edge. Moreover, increasing the speed of the game gives America more possessions and thus more chances to show that they are the better team. It’s no surprise, but it’s smart that Coach K and his staff are doing everything they can to play fast.
5) This is very much Kevin Durant’s team
Kevin Durant is the reigning MVP and clearly the best player on the USA National Team. That being said, many of his teammates are also superstars who are used to being “the Man” and have big egos. Yet, it appeared that everyone had reached a consensus; this is the Durantula’s team. Players looked to feed KD the ball and happily stood by and watched him go to work. If there was any doubt as to Durant standing among the best players in the NBA — and there shouldn’t have been — it has been quelled. It is LeBron and Durant on top and then a steep drop-off.
[Photo: JOHN LOCHER/ASSOCIATED PRESS]