It was a good day for USA Basketball across the pond, controlling their tuneup against Spain for much of the contest, before holding off a late charge and escaping with a 86-85 win in hostile territory. Kevin Durant led the way with a fantastic line of 25 points and 10 boards, to go with two crucial blocks on Spain’s final possession of the game.
While the win left the Americans happy, Celtics fans were undoubtedly left a little perplexed watching the friendly due to the absence of Rajon Rondo. The C’s point guard has started in all previous contests for Team USA this summer, but was relegated to a cheerleader for the full four quarters of this one.
Unsurprisingly, it left many C’s fans wondering about Rondo’s status after a subpar game against Lithuania yesterday. Was it simply rest? Was Rondo hurt? Benched? Luckily, answers began to arise following the victory.Viewers of the fantastic affair also likely noticed that Rondo wasn’t the only Team USA player to earn a day off during the contest, as Danny Granger and Kevin Love also stuck to the bench. With Love leaving the game Saturday injured, and cuts looming Coach K explained his thought process after the game:
Those are two veterans and young guys haven’t had a chance to start or whatever, so before we select our 12 we needed to give everyone a look.
We were trying to learn about our younger players so we started a different lineup. Before we talk about the outside, Lamar Odom should be our starting center. He’s finally into shape I think to play at this level. Curry has been out so we wanted to give him a chance and we already know what Rondo and Granger can do, and Love was out.
The doctor wanted to keep him out because of hitting his head and because it’s back-to-back, so that was a precaution. That was our plan tonight, just to take a better look at our team.
Fair enough Coach. Chris Sheridan had more on the decision from the locker room afterwards, including a curveball Coach K failed to bench. Was Rondo sick?
The victory came with a little added intrigue, too, with Rose claiming afterward that Rondo was suffering from some sort of sinus infection — a statement that was rebutted by team director Colangelo.
As well as starting Rose over Rondo, Krzyzewski also went with Odom at center in place of Tyson Chandler.
“Coach told the team this morning that he was going to try some other players, change the lineup,” Colangelo told ESPN.com. “We’ve been off to some bad starts in our three games, and so he went with a different lineup, and he said some guys might not play today. And that’s how it played out. I don’t think anything is significant. I don’t know what we’ll do in the game against Greece, but we’re still trying to determine who we are and how we’re going to play, so that was just for today, what he chose to do.”
They say coaches don’t want to show their hand too much in so-called “friendly” games before the real thing, but Krzyzewski was playing with a small chip stack and needed to double up to get his team out of its confidence crisis.
Hard to argue with any of that speculation from Sheridan. USA looked dismal for much of their matchup Saturday so this was a nice bounceback W against one of the toughest teams in the world.
For the record, Russell Westbrook certainly made the most out of Rondo’s absence today, likely earning his way on the squad with a strong 10 point energy boost off the bench.
This team still needs more shooting so it’s tough to imagine saying goodbye to Stephon Curry at this point, but given his ankle injury and failure to impress thus far, he may be the odd man out. Coach K and company will have a tough decision to make, but still have another week plus to figure it out.
Ultimately, the biggest question coming out of this game for C’s fans is likely whether Derrick Rose played himself ahead of Rondo into the starting lineup for this tournament. I know it’s just an exhibition game, but Rose played well today (13 points) against a superior opponent, providing crucial scores in the game’s closing minutes, including the game winning free throws.
Team USA is incredible defensively, but it will need consistent scoring in order to bring home the Gold from Turkey. You can argue all you want about whether Rondo or Rose is the better guard right now, but there’s no doubt who is the more reliable asset scoring the ball and that man is Derrick Rose.
Given that fact, it’s hard to see Coach K not giving Rose the nod once this tourney starts, I know I would as much as it pains me to say it. What say you Celtics fans? Bias aside, who would you rather start for this team; Rondo or Rose?