By Eduardo Maisonet, III / @edthesportsfan
For FOX Deportes
Team USA gathered up a total of 35 rebounds on Saturday afternoon in their 99-94 victory over Lithuania. They out-rebounded their opponent by just two. Their leading rebounder was an obvious one in Kevin Love, but their second-leading rebounder and the one who grabbed the most important deflection off the rim was much more compelling.
That would be Chris Paul, with 7 rebounds on his ledger (along with 7 points and 6 assists), along with a huge rebound late in the 4th quarter that prevented Lithuania from possibly taking the lead, and allowing the Americans to score on their next possession to put the game out of reach.
In a game where doing the little things can make or break a team’s success, the littlest person made arguably the biggest play of the game.
Look, if you’ve been watching the men’s basketball games thus far, then your realize there hasn’t been much to “analyze” and to be “critical” about. Blowouts are the expectation for Team USA, where trying to keep up with the ghosts of Dream Team’s past seems more exhausting than playing a basketball game for 48 minutes. Lithuania gives us something to talk about, be objective about, something to yell about in the barbershop. This is a good thing for everyone involved.
However, the biggest thing I noticed in Saturday’s contest is something that I’d picked up on earlier, but wasn’t confident enough to publicly state until now. Yes, this team is loaded with superstar wing players. LeBron. Durant. Kobe. Melo. They are without a doubt the driving force of this team and the most vital parts. In team basketball, someone’s got to do the dirty work, sacrifice, be patient, and think ahead.
This is where Paul, Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook come in.
We saw CP3 do magic on Saturday, even if it doesn’t show up in the highlight. There aren’t enough words to speak on how preposterous it was that Paul got that rebound in that situation. He had no business even being there.
Deron Williams, the person slated to be the No. 2 point guard on the squad, has turned into the other type of No. 2. Shooting guard. It seems like if Kevin Durant isn’t spotting up outside the arc, then the next open option has usually been Williams, an underappreciated shooter whose willingness to spread the floor and get shots has been key for the USA attack. Deron’s big three in the fourth was huge (along with LeBron taking over in the 4th, but you knew that…right?) in helping secure the victory.
Then there’s Russell Westbrook. The target of angst, ridicule, and downright evilness at times, plays the role that all Westbrook contrarians want to see him play the most. A wing player, an off guard, a defender, a slasher. And you know what? Being the Russell Westbrook apologist that I am, makes it difficult to ignore the fact that he does all of those things exceptionally well. Coach Mike Krzyzewski uses Westbrook likes cops use the police dogs to find hiding criminals in unsavory neighborhoods. The man is relentless, unwavering and knows no other level of output other than MAX. On Saturday, it was doing the little things. A secondary cut leading to an and-1. Pressuring the ball, leading to a fast break. Sharing the ball to an open shooter.
My mom told me once that if you find a woman who pays attention to the details, and does the little things all the time, then you’ve got a winner. Well, I’m still single and that’s probably a different article on a different publication at a different time. (Cries a single tear into my coffee) Yet, the little guys are doing the little things and paying attention to the details for USA. A marriage between the Americans and the gold medal could hinge on the performance of Paul, Williams and Westbrook.