Luol Deng powerless to stop magical US star show
GB 78 USA 118
The only British winner was Alastair, who looked about 10 and who beat Sharon plus a few others in a dance-off during the break at the end of the first quarter. This was United States territory: a 51st state at the end of Manchester's Deansgate, an exhibition match staged by the best basketball nation on the planet, who got most of the support.
"We want to thank the USA for giving us this great opportunity and we are going to give you guys a show," Great Britain's Pops Mensah-Bonsu said before the sport's biggest game in this country.
It wasn't an annihilation but it did provide an answer to the question of where the British nation's players fit among the best. When you stripped away the excellent razzmatazz – the kiss cam which forced Chinese couples into embarrassing embraces, the drivecam and, initially, the desire of coach Mike Krzyzewski's players to put on a show and give it some Globetrotter – you were left looking at a chasm in ability.
Students of the sport may consider the point a trite one but Kevin Durant's arms are the size of an average man's legs. His physique, alone, makes him a player no opponent could pass. So, it is not just the height of Krzyzewski's men that makes them a challenge but the sheer length. The height was significant, though, because man-for-man, Chris Finch's big players couldn't match up. Two early fouls by Joel Freedland – one of Finch's stars – saw him out of the game for a long, early period.
GB grasped on to the tails of the conquistadors, though the moments which telegraphed themselves as sport of a sublime order belonged to the Olympic champions. A first-quarter play from Kobe Bryant, turning Nate Reinking inside out and shooting a three-pointer while falling backwards, brought gasps.
"The one thing about Great Britain is you really appreciate someone who is really good in their sport," Krzyzewski reflected later. "An etiquette is there; a respect which transcends all sports. When an opponent is that good, you really acknowledge that."
It was still 33-20 at the end of that quarter and 55-37 at the half way stage. But the fatigue which set in from the second half allowed a succession of turnovers, which Luol Deng later admitted must be cut out. This was disappointing after last weekend's strong showing against Portugal.
"I think it was a step back defensively, with our technical execution," admitted Finch. "But you can't put this team and Portugal in the same class." Krzyzewski's men eased away, with 14 of the first 16 points they scored in that critical third period coming from Deron Williams, who made five three-pointers, and the other eight from LeBron James. A 30-point deficit was seen as within the realm of expectations. This went way beyond it.
Deng, the night's top scorer, admitted it had been a reality check and that he is still working for full fitness. "Just for 40 minutes it's very hard to keep in check and in focus. The five on their bench could be their team. We've got work to do." GB may meet USA in an Olympic quarter-final but they will probably have to beat China and Australia to do so.
Yet for all the realism, the nation does know a little more about one of the Britons who could be a hero, today. Deng's status as GB's nonpareil is well known but Pops Mensah-Bonsu may soon be better known. He wants success to deliver the liberating spirit of basketball to his boyhood streets of Tottenham, which burned last year. His team need that kind of inspiration.
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