In a possible semifinal preview at the 2010 World Championship in Turkey, the United States and Spain – arguably two of the best teams in the world – went toe to toe in an exhibition game on Sunday in Madrid and the Americans barely won, 86-85, thanks to two free throws by Derrick Rose.
Kevin Durant led the U.S. with 25 points – 16 coming in the second half – and was named the player of the game. As good as Durant was offensively, it was Rose who iced the game. His layup over Spanish center Marc Gasol put the Americans ahead by two at 84-82 and, after the home team took a one-point lead, the Bulls’ All-Star guard drew a foul on Gasol and sank two clutch free throws with 16 seconds left to give the U.S. team a one-point lead.
Spain had a chance to win on its last possession, but give Team USA’s coaching staff a lot of credit for switching to a zone defense that threw off the defending world champions. Durant blocked Rudy Fernandez’s off-balance 3-point shot as time expired.
“It was one of those games that was a learning experience for us and I think we made key plays down the stretch,” Durant told the Associated Press. “We also played as a team and stuck through tough times.”
The “friendly” game was the featured matchup of the Global Community Cup, and even though the exhibition contest didn’t count in the FIBA standings it didn’t stop both teams from putting on a very heated battle inside the arena called The Magic Box.
Rose, who had 13 points in the game, was paired with Chauncey Billups (who had 10 points) in the backcourt to start the game and the two point guards pushed the U.S to a quick start, outscoring Spain 16-3 in the first six minutes and leading 23-16 in the first quarter.
The Spaniards, who trailed by 12 at halftime, rallied behind Euroleague stars Ricky Rubio and Juan Carlos Navarro. Rubio had only seven points, but he impacted the game in other ways. He bothered the U.S. point guards with his length (four steals) and he created offense for his teammates. Navarro led the Spaniards with 20 points, and his 3-point play with 27 seconds left in the fourth quarter put Spain ahead, 85-84.
Rubio – who was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2009 – came off the bench in the first half, but started in the third quarter and he immediately jump-started Spain’s offense and fired up the home-town crowd with his fancy passes off perfectly executed pick-and-rolls. Felipe Reyes was the beneficiary of some of Rubio’s passes as he finished with 16 points. His layup near the seven-minute mark in the third quarter cut the U.S. lead to 50-45.
Spain made it 55-53 with 5:18 left in the third when Rubio poked the ball away from Rose and Navarro ended up scoring on the other end. Navarro (6-2) was guarded by a bigger and longer Andre Iguodala (6-8) for much of the game, but he was still able to get his points, using his signature runners in the lane.
Spain also took advantage of more opportunities at the free throw line, as it made 17-for-21 in the third quarter. The U.S. only had 10 free throw attempts in the third.
Marc Gasol, the brother of two-time NBA champion Pau Gasol, started at center for Spain and he finished with 17 points. Whenever the Memphis Grizzlies center worked his way down the low block, the U.S. big men had a real difficult time containing him. Tyson Chandler, the only legitimate center for Team USA, ran into some foul problems for much of the game and was not a big factor.
Lamar Odom started the game and played well for the U.S., scoring 12 points and helping the U.S. win the rebounding battle. Odom could very well be the U.S. team’s best option at center when it starts the World Championships on Aug. 28.
It appears that U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski will stick with Durant at power forward and Iguodala at small forward, and Rose and Billups will complete Team USA’s best five.
Russell Westbrook may have earned a spot on the 12-man roster with his superb play against Lithuania the other night, although he missed a wide-open breakaway dunk against Spain on Sunday. Rudy Gay is another small forward who will play some big forward. Stephen Curry, who had been nursing an injured ankle, made some nice plays against Spain and his outside shooting will be needed against zones.