It was Leo Rautins’ worst nightmare come to life.
The Canada national team coach was afraid Team USA would turn Saturday’s FIBA Americas Championship Group B pool-play matchup into a highlight-reel game.
Sure enough, the Americans strung together so many dunks, blocked shots, 3-point field goals and precision passes, there was enough B-roll to fill a one-hour SportsCenter — on ESPN and in Canada on TSN.
But while Team USA’s 113-63 rout of the Canadians at the Thomas & Mack Center had plenty of offense, the defense had everyone talking — particularly in the second quarter, when Canada mustered two field goals. Jesse Young made a layup with 3:45 left in the period, and David Thomas converted on a putback just before the halftime buzzer, and that was it.
The 2-for-13 shooting performance, coupled with Team USA going on a 19-0 run and getting big efforts from Carmelo Anthony and Michael Redd, took any suspense out of this one and put the focus on today’s 6 p.m. game against another 3-0 team, Brazil. The winner of the nationally televised game on ESPN2 (Cable 31) will be the top seed from Group B when the second round begins Monday.
"I tip my hat to the Team USA coaches and the players for buying into the system," Rautins said. "They’re committed to winning. They just smothered us defensively."
Olu Famutimi, the only Canadian to have even minimal success offensively against the USA, said even when he thought he was open to shoot, he wasn’t.
"They come at you so fast, and they’re so big," said Famutimi, who had 11 first-quarter points and finished with 17. "They don’t let you get comfortable. You really don’t have any rhythm because they’re crowding you right away."
Whether it was Dwight Howard and Amare Stoudemire rendering Canada star center Samuel Dalembert useless inside, or Kobe Bryant locking up guard Carl English on the perimeter, or Anthony and Jason Kidd coming from behind to swat an unsuspecting Canadian’s shot, Team USA put on the kind of defensive show that will serve it well the rest of this tournament and next year at the Olympics should it qualify.
"We’re getting better defensively as the tournament goes along," Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said after his team held Canada, which finished the preliminary round 2-2, to 33 percent shooting from the floor. "Guys are really talking out there. I don’t have to say too much."
The second quarter was an amazing display of transition basketball. As soon as Canada missed, the ball was in the frontcourt, where the Americans were finishing with layups and dunks or pulling up for uncontested 3-pointers. They continue to share the ball as Team USA had 22 assists.
Anthony had 20 of his team-high 25 points by halftime, and Redd again was on fire from outside. He had three second-quarter 3s and wound up with 19 points as seven USA players scored in double figures.
"I think it was great basketball today," Redd said. "We really did a great job defensively. We knew this was a big game coming off a day of break, and we knew Canada would be ready to play basketball, and so we just wanted to come out with a little more energy in the second quarter, especially."
While Team USA had fresh legs from Friday’s day off, this was Canada’s fourth game in four days, and fatigue had set in. With his team down 44 points, Rautins emptied his bench late in the third quarter and planned to regroup for Monday’s second round. Krzyzewski long since had gone to his second unit, giving Tayshaun Prince, Chauncey Billups, Deron Williams and Tyson Chandler extended minutes.
Krzyzewski said Team USA’s defense, which has allowed an average of 63 points through three games, has been a point of emphasis among the players more so than with the coaches.
"There’s a great deal of professionalism and pride at that end of the court," Krzyzewski said. "A lot of these guys have not been celebrated for their defense.
"They’ve been celebrated for their offense. But it’s our defense that gets us going."TODAY’S SCHEDULE All games at Thomas & Mack Center Venezuela vs. U.S. Virgin Islands, 1 p.m. Mexico vs. Uruguay, 3:30 p.m. Brazil vs. United States, 6 p.m Panama vs. Argentina, 9 p.m.