Tall order ... USA coach Mike Krzyzewski isn't taking Australia lightly. Photo: AP
Not long after his band of merry NBA megastars had torn the beating heart from the chest of arch-rivals Argentina, Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski was handing out praise for the fighting spirit of Australia's Boomers, who are next on the menu when the Olympic basketball quarter-finals begin on Wednesday.
Coach K has been in the game for 40 years and doesn't dish out niceties for the sake of appeasing rival nations. Even so, his kind words for the Australians couldn't help but sound like a priest reassuring a condemned man on the way to the gallows.
The Boomers finished their preliminary games with three victories, the final one being a confidence-boosting upset over Russia, who topped Pool B. Spurs guard Patrick Mills hit the winning shot in the 82-80 triumph, before going on to declare the Americans as beatable.
He may have made a slight shift on that appraisal after the USA's 126-97 romp over perhaps their biggest threat for the gold. Kevin Durant almost melted on the way to eight from 10 threes, the last of which may as well have been launched from the 100m track at the nearby Olympic Stadium.
"Anybody in their right mind, when he is shooting the ball like that, there's only one play. We have a great team that has the presence of mind to get it to him. KD is unbelievable. We have to yell at him to shoot the ball. As you see, when he shoots it, he usually makes it," teammate Chris Paul said of Durant's streak.
Durant scored 17 of his 28 points in a 42-point third quarter for the Americans before taking a seat in the fourth. Argentina trailed by just one at halftime but faded badly when the USA finally started to defend with some presence. The only positive for the Boomers is that with some clever and crisp ball movement and the lack of a genuine shot blocker in the USA low post, there are points to be had.
When Durant started landing from everywhere, the Argentinians imploding as they ran in circles to give chase during what was a fiery encounter. Things threatened to boil over when Luis Scola fouled Carmelo Anthony at the end of the third quarter, while the Argentinians later accused Paul of punching their guard Facundo Campazzo.
Krzyzewski said he hadn't enjoyed a great deal of time to watch the Australians throughout the week but would begin his analysis back at the team's hotel. He praised Mills, who has been a standout over all countries during the prelim games, and said he knew the Boomers would come to play.
"I've always had an unbelievable amount of respect for the competitiveness of all Australian teams, particularly basketball. Mills has had an amazing tournament. Just an incredible tournament," Krzyzewski said. "They play with great heart and they are extremely well coached."
Krzyzewski said Brett Brown had the Boomers playing some smothering defence, which he rated the equal to anyone in the tournament. The problem for the Boomers is that so far, nobody's defence has been enough to keep Team USA from winning. Lithuania tried their utmost, losing 98-90, with the USA having the luxury of simply giving LeBron James the ball when a crisis looms.
"They probably play as good a defence as anybody in the tournament. Their man-to-man defence, the times I've watched them, has been co-ordained with great effort. They have great spirit and good talent. We'll study them closer tonight. I know those things already," Krzyzewski said.