Just finishing watching the first half of the big Team USA win over Greece yesterday at the Olympics in Beijing. What you really noticed from the get go was that Team USA was going to play aggressive in your face defense. They can afford to do that, because athletically they are much better than Greece. They can afford to play chest to chest, gamble on steals, because the risk-to-reward ratio is much lower due to their athletic advantage. Team USA did double and trap a lot in the second quarter, but I think it was mostly just the aggressive ball pressure that disrupted Greece's rhythm preventing them from getting into their offense.

The other major difference, other than the incredible ball-pressure was that when Greece did get into their PNR offense, Team USA did a great job with help side defense then recover on the reversal. That is not to say that they prevented every PNR from scoring, but that they did a much better job than they did in 2006. Offensively, I though Team USA did what they needed to do, though they still struggled from the line and were still inconsistent from beyond the arc. But back to the defense.

Ball Pressure:

From the opening tip, Team USA brought the pressure and never let up. In this opening play, you can see Dwight Howard going chest to chest with his check on the perimeter. I don't know why you don't see this more often, I've always felt that if a forward or center is out on the perimeter to receive the pass, get up in their grill. Make it difficult to pass the ball, disrupt their offense. The reason why they have the forward out there is because of their height, they can pass over the top to cutters going to the basket. So on defense, you should make it as difficult as possible to make that pass, only give them the option of going with a bounce pass to the perimeter instead,

More pressure here. This time on handoffs. Watch here as Dwyane Wade gets in tight to prevent the handoff. If the offense is giving room between the handoff, as a defender you can shoot the gap and prevent the handoff. The downside is that they can play misdirection and go the other way, but Team USA is athletic enough to recover if that were the case. Instead, it prevents the handoff, and the forward is forced to pivot back and look for a wing pass instead, shaving more time off the clock,

When I talked about gambling on defense, here is a great example of that. The ball is in the post, and the other defenders are in help. Deron Williams is in great ball-you-man position but he's anticipating the pass. When the pass is attempted, he jumps it and deflects it. Now, if he fails to get the tip, again, he's quick enough to recover back to his man,

PNR Defense:

Overall, Team USA was consistent in their PNR defense. They would soft-switch to prevent the shot, and bring a help defender to protect the basket. Once the ball was reversed to the open man, they would recover (sometimes giving up a temporary open shot). It was perfect, but I thought it was effective enough, especially given their aggressive on ball pressure which prevented Greece from getting set offensively in the first place. Notice here that Carmelo Anthony is in the lane while his check is actually at the 3-point line. The ball is eventually swung to Melo's check but being the athlete that he is, Melo is able to recover,


The biggest test for Team USA of course is tonight against Spain. However, since both Team USA and Team Spain have secured their spots in the next round, I'm not sure whether either or both will try to show too much of their hand this game, knowing that they will probably face each other in the finals down the line. It's an interesting paradox as a coach, you want to win of course, but do you show all your stuff in the preliminary round? You can go both ways, it's a tough call for sure.

For more on aggressive ball pressure on defense, you should check out Chris Lowery's DVD on Halfcourt M2M Defense. Coach Lowery is the brains behind the Southern Illinois tenacious defense. Don't forget to check out the X's and O's of Basketball Forum to talk about this and your favorite basketball topics.