Two terrific games at the Olympics today in Beijing. First, Spain with the gutsy win over Lithuania in the early game. Then Team USA beating a resilient Argentinian team that almost took it to the Americans without Manu Ginobili who went down in the first quarter with an ankle injury.

A lot of people will point to the apparent phantom foul call by the referee on the 3-point shot by Carmelo Anthony to close out the half as the play that changed the game. Certainly from a momentum standpoint, that halted the ferocious 2nd quarter surge by the Argentinians. But I felt that Team USA came out of halftime with a different mentality on attacking the zone that frustrated them so much in that 2nd quarter. Credit to Coach K for making the necessary adjustments during halftime. Really, the Americans didn't do anything special scheme wise. I saw 1 or 2 nice BLOB plays they used against the zone inbounds, but other than that Team USA just kept to basics to beat the zone.

Early Postup:

Just because it is a zone defense doesn't mean you can't fast break or run an early offense. In fact, one of the best ways to beat the zone is for your forwards to go key to key and gain an early postup advantage. That is exactly what Dwight Howard does here getting very deep postup position in the lane,

Skip Passes:

Probably the most significant change Team USA made coming out of halftime was moving the ball side to side. It's that old hoosiers line "3 passes before you shoot". Nothing fancy here, Team USA is spread in a 4-out 1-in, and they just move the ball from side to side and Dwight Howard is going from block to block. Eventually, there is a breakdown in the zone defense with all the side to side action and allows Howard inside position for the dunk,

Use Pump Fakes:

This is probably just lack of preparation and scouting by Argentina who from what I understand don't like running the zone defense. Here, Scola goes back to play the ball after the pass out from the post to the wing. Kidd receives the ball and gives a head fake, Scola bites on the fake and jumps at him (bad mistake as we all know Kidd can't shoot well), Kidd dumps off a nice bounce pass to Chris Bosh who nails the shot from the short corner,

Offensive Rebounding:

Last but not least, you can almost single handily beat a zone defense if you have great offensive rebounding. Because the defense is playing the ball, it is elementary for your forwards to get underneath the defense and grab the rebounds. In fact Team USA outrebounded Argentina 16-9 on the offensive glass and 43 to 32 overall. Off the 3-pointer miss, Dwyane Wade flies into the open lane and skies to tap the ball back to his teammates,


Zone defenses can work extremely when used by a less athletic team trying to nullify the athletic advantage. Zone defenses can become a killer to beat offensively if your team is undisciplined and makes bad decisions no matter how athletic you are. In the first half, when Argentina reluctantly switched to the zone, that is exactly what happened. Team USA settled for 3-pointers, didn't share the ball and just didn't play smart overall. In the second half, they started to pass the ball, get offensive rebounds, and make smart decisions, and it worked.

Tomorrow, Team USA faces Spain in a rematch of their round robin game. The difference I felt in that game was the toughness factor. Team USA bullied the Spanish players around for 40 minutes and they didn't know quite how to respond. We'll see if Team Spain is up for the challenge. They seemed able to toughen it out against a solid Lithuanian team so who knows.

More info for you coaches on zone offense, this is Ronnie Arrow's DVD on his Inside/Outside Zone Offense. Coach Arrow is the head coach of the University of South Alabama. Don't forget to check out the X's and O's of Basketball Forum to talk about this and your favorite basketball topics.