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Wukesong Arena, Beijing

For 15 minutes, it was a contest.

China, starting with their totemic leader Yao Ming, were raining them in from deep while the "Redeem Team" played "me ball", each member of the cast trying to outdo the other like an Olympic version of A Bridge Too Far.

But it couldn't last - LeBron James and Dwyane Wade saw to that - and with an estimated audience of one billion at home, and one head of state in the house, American authority was emphatically underlined. Or was it?

OK, this latest reincarnation of the original (and still the best) Dream Team ended this basketball battle with a 101-70 victory, but who's winning the medal-table war?

In fact, for that thrilling half an hour of real time, this game followed a similar course to the game within the Games. The one the Chinese really believe they can win.

The superstars of America's brilliant but brittle team were taking turns to score breathtaking dunks, while the less gifted but more patient Chinese were working space for their three-point shooters to pull the trigger.

At 29-29 with five minutes to play in the first half, the US was walking the highlights competition but China was still in the game.

A glance at the medal tally will reveal a similar story - for all your Michael Phelps and Kobe Bryant moments, a gold medal in the basketball is worth the same as a gold medal in the shooting, and China has won two of those already.

Not that the US basketball boss Mike "Coach K" Krzyzewski will be counting any chickens yet. This game had considerable symbolic value (and no doubt financial value too) but little merit as a genuine test of his team's mettle.

Those tests will come soon enough and teams with more serious credentials for extending America's dire run in men's hoops (no gold in any global competition since 2000) will have learned plenty from the early exchanges on Sunday.

If the US shoots that poorly against the likes of Argentina, Lithuania or Spain, they could be heading for further international embarrassment.

But I don't see that happening, largely because this team is able to take a greater number of high-percentage shots (and there is no more high-percentage shot than a slam dunk, even the reverse dunks Wade enjoys so much) than any other side in the competition.

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The speed of their counter-attacks, the crispness of their passing and power of their trips to the basket cannot be matched by anybody. They've got an extra gear on defence too.

The US outscored China 24-4 on the fast break and claimed 60% of their points from inside the paint. Wade (who was perfect from the free-throw line too) was seven for seven from the floor and Chris Bosh four for four. But when all your shots are dunks, they should go in.

The hosts, on the other hand, made six of their first 10 three-point attempts and only four of their next 17.

Where the Americans could struggle, however, is against a team as organised as China, that stays hotter longer and does not rely so much on one player in defence.

Yao, who nailed the first three-pointer of the game, could not have given more for his team in terms of effort but what they needed was beyond even his powers.

Only back from a long injury lay-off last month, the 7ft 6in centre had to play all 40 minutes, bottle up the lanes America's high-wire acts wanted to attack, boss the boards and provide a serious inside threat on offence.

He tried but fatigue, foul trouble and Wade landing on his injured foot, meant he had to do too much leading from the sidelines. When China's flag-bearer was on the court it was almost close, when he wasn't it got far too easy for the US to showboat.

After the game, Krzyzewski denied suggestions his team had been showing off - "I don't know what your definition of showing off is, I would call that going to the basket hard" - and he also shot down (with a smile) talk of needing to "kill off super-egos" in his team.

But there was no doubt some of his players had been over-egging it, Bryant being the worst culprit. Too many no-look passes and rebounds tipped, not caught.

But more worryingly for his team, he was totally out of sorts from range. The LA Lakers superstar eventually stopped shooting and stuck to Wade-Bosh methods. In fact, it wasn't until the first string had sat down with the game safely in the bag that the second string started to hit some jump shots.

A far better performance than crowd favourite Kobe's was put in by LeBron. A Cavalier by trade and method, the 6'8" forward is a beguiling mix of finesse and force.

There were at least two surges to the hole that took the breath away, his passing skills are almost Magic-esque and defensively he is immense. He actually plucked one Chinese lay-up clean out of the air.

And that is how the basketball numbers stack up for these two teams at the moment. The Americans can afford to have one of their sporting gods take a day off; China cannot, even if his foot is hurting.

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But for how much longer will that be the case? The reaction the US team received at the opening ceremony and as they took to the court on Sunday reveals just how popular basketball is in this country of 1.3 billion potential sports fans.

The National Basketball Association has been canny in selling the league's brand here and not the competing religions of its teams. The Rockets, Yao's team, are probably the most popular but not to the detriment of any other NBA outfit.

The American league has also been cuter than the Premier League, for example, in setting up a Chinese operation with local money and staff. There is now talk of NBA China putting a basketball court in every village.

With ambition like that the numbers start to change. How long can it be before China fields more than one Yao or perhaps a LeBron with a Beijing accent?

In the meantime, the US and George W should enjoy these wins in the big Olympic set-pieces, it's the bleeding from the smaller skirmishes they need to worry about..

Matt Slater is a BBC Sport journalist focusing on sports news. Our FAQs should answer any questions you have.


Comments

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  • 1. At 01:33am on 11 Aug 2008, henners2890 wrote:

    The reason usa won was not because of single minded play.It was unselfish passing once in the paint when anyone could've had a simple dunk.They worked well in attack and defence

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  • 2. At 03:33am on 11 Aug 2008, quickquip wrote:

    Not again! Is this Olympics about baleful Bush or are these repugnant photos of him littered through every other blog just to remind us once again of a 1001 reasons to root against "American authorit[arianism]y". Whether it's "emphatically underlined" on the baskerball court or enfiladingly underlined in the occupation zones it epitomises the arrogance of power. And as pride goeth before a fall the decline in fortunes of the perennial "me" team over the last few years has been a refreshing and overdue comeuppance for American conceits. One which bears emulation in more urgent affairs outside the sporting arena. As has often been noted,sports and politics are inextricably linked, especially at a garish celebration of overt nationalism like the Olympics. The unending photos of bully Bush and constant referral to medal totals only serve to underscore the flagrant cultural chauvinism permeating the occasion. The US and the ghastly George W may enjoy these propaganda victories - with or without Leni Riefenstahl there to record them - but meanwhile the real bleeding from the skirmishes, large and small, they've inflicted on innnocent populations around the world goes on.

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  • 3. At 03:47am on 11 Aug 2008, mojoriser9 wrote:

    As an American basketball enthusiast I am sometimes embarrassed by the lack of fundamentals we exhibit in internation competition. Too much showboating, behind the back and no look passes, and alley oop lobs are emblematic of our problem.

    With the exception of Michael Redd and Lebron ..can we make a jump shot?

    I would not be surprised if we lose to ateam wich plays tight interior defense and limits our athleticism on the interior.

    The world has not caught up to American basketball. We have simply forgotten how to play fundamental basketball.

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  • 4. At 04:04am on 11 Aug 2008, mojoriser9 wrote:

    As far as American authoritarianism I agree. I love my country. However i do not agree with our policing of the world. The Olympics accentuate the issue. At a time when the world comes together to compete in peace, we are reminded of the heavy handed nature in whcih we treat the rest of the world.

    Perhaps if we decreased our dependence on foreign oil we would not need to send troops into foreign countries. I don't have an answer nor do pretend to understand the intricacies of the problem.


    I pray for a day when we are not loathed by the world and perceived as a bunch of arrogant, fat, imperialists.

    Until then keep in mind that not all Americans are proud of our international posture and are cognizant of the fact that the American way is not superior or the only way.

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  • 5. At 10:14am on 11 Aug 2008, Moutarde wrote:

    Once you're inside the paint, the guys with the most experience are the ones who are going to come out on top. Outside the paint is where the non-USA teams can really hit rubber against the deck and make some canyons to swim down. This tournament is wide open, so who's carrying the oars and who's bringing the buckets? I can't wait to find out!

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  • 6. At 10:34am on 11 Aug 2008, Matt Slater wrote:

    Very droll, Moutarde, very droll. Fear not I'm at the tennis today, boxing tomorrow and football on Wednesday. If I could just find some rugby league and a greyhound track we'd all be on much safer territory, wouldn't we?

    henners2890, you make a fair point, the US did get the job done fairly comfortably in the end but my point is that there are far stiffer challenges that lie ahead for them. This was always going to be more of an occasion than a contest. The teams I mention above, plus Germany and Russia, will not roll over so easily. You have to make some jump shots to succeed in international basketball.

    The European teams are big, physical and (by NBA standards) dirty in defence, and it only takes a couple of the guards to get hot from long range and you've got problems. That's when you need your shooters to step up....but not force shots (Kobe!) or attempt to do it all on your own.

    I think this is the point mojoriser9 is making. And he's right to an extent...I just don't think the oppo here are quite good enough to pull a surprise this time.

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  • 7. At 2:07pm on 11 Aug 2008, fancyNathan10 wrote:

    I agree with Mojoriser9 (comment 3).
    What I would add is that the refereeing was absolutely woeful in this game. I lost count of the number of times Team USA was traveling and didn't get called for it.

    This is blantantly unfair and amounts to a huge advantage, particularly when, as Matt Slater and everyone seems to agree, the vast majority of team USA's points come from drives to the hoop.

    For sheer athleticism though, Team USA is a joy to watch.

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  • 8. At 3:20pm on 11 Aug 2008, mojoriser9 wrote:

    I agree with myself in comment #3 and praise my ability to see only through Rose Colored Glasses. I would like to infuse my future comments with as many cliches and colloquialisms as possible.

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  • 9. At 10:36pm on 11 Aug 2008, Hargo A Go Go wrote:

    At 3:20pm on 11 Aug 2008, mojoriser9 wrote:
    I agree with myself in comment #3 and praise my ability to see only through Rose Colored Glasses. I would like to infuse my future comments with as many cliches and colloquialisms as possible.
    =============================================================
    It was only a matter of time before we saw the true American charm.

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  • 10. At 11:19pm on 11 Aug 2008, Hargo A Go Go wrote:

    At 3:20pm on 11 Aug 2008, mojoriser9 wrote:
    I agree with myself in comment #3 and praise my ability to see only through Rose Colored Glasses. I would like to infuse my future comments with as many cliches and colloquialisms as possible.
    =============================================
    It was only a matter of time before we saw the true American charm.

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  • 11. At 11:57pm on 11 Aug 2008, arissalonica wrote:

    Firstly nobody seems to know in this blog which are the actual favorites for this turnament. There are 4 teams that are probably ahead from the other: USA (NBA players etc), Spain (World champions 2006, European Runner up 2007), Greece (European Champions 2005, World Runner up 2006-beating USA on semi) and Argentina. If you add Lithuania and Russia you have the top 6 in my opinion. China is not even close to these teams. They lost by 50 points of difference from Greece in the World Championship 2 years ago, and Greece has a much better team now. For me Spain is the really big favorites on winning the turnament. If USA plays in the same way as they did with China there in for a bif shock with the Spaniards. If you see a 101-70 in favor of Spain you should not be surprised.

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  • 12. At 03:22am on 12 Aug 2008, mojoriser9 wrote:

    dear reddey

    did i offend you? I apologize.

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  • 13. At 04:46am on 12 Aug 2008, gtom87 wrote:

    I here what some of you guys are saying about the US supposed lack of fundamentals and the ability to play the half court set and shot from long range but theygot their tactics right for that particular game.

    I was saying before the game the USA need to get out and run, china's best weapon period is Yao and If the americans play their silky running game Yao is gonna be no where to be seen guarding the hoop.

    Remember early in the game when the americans were playing it slow Kobe makes a decent drive tothe hoop and Yao stonewalls him. After that the americans picked up the pace China's bigs were only seeing the Back on the US jerseys and then the game was only going to go one way.

    Looking at the games the US will have later the will utilise the talents of guys like anthony, boozer and redd who are more better at the half court set espcially anthony remember he has been the US top scorer the last view years and he is by no means the most athletic.

    Look forward the more Team USA kicking Arse

    G out!

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  • 14. At 10:00am on 12 Aug 2008, Parrisia wrote:

    the US roller-coaster will terminate its course by colliding on the Greek Wall

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  • 15. At 2:52pm on 12 Aug 2008, WPep wrote:

    “while the less gifted but more patient Chinese were working space for their three-point shooters to pull the trigger.”

    Not really sure how shooting 3’s after one pass in your opponents half is more patient than working your way in for a percentage shot. China’s failings were these ‘patient’ three point attempts which fail too often and allow fast breaks.

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  • 16. At 8:37pm on 12 Aug 2008, Godez23 wrote:

    First of all I have alot of knowledge about the whole U.S team as i see around 40% of nba games every year, most of that is for Lebron and the Cavs but i consider myself one of a handful of knowledgable brits about the AMerican game.

    Compared to the NBA rules the FIBA rules do make certain players in the American ranks look rather average e.g. (Carmelo Anthony and Carlos Boozer) Jason Kidd is less effective at his age but the team is unbeaten when he was played in a game (45-0).

    Spain and Greece will pose the greatest threat to their title hopes but really in all truth Kobe hasnt played well, Lebron and Dwight Howard are playing well within themselves at the minute and Their bench is better than anybody elses...thus they will win the gold medal pretty handily IMHO!

    Anybody can quote me on that and the fact people whine about them showbaoting because they dunk too often are fools, dunks are the easiest basket that can be made so why not take it...just as football can be play beautifully by simple pass and movement e.g. Arsenal (i'm a Sunderland fan btw) so can Basketball it's their way of expressing themselves and enjoying the game they love so let them be!

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  • 17. At 11:32pm on 12 Aug 2008, SilverB97 wrote:

    Just to put my response in context, I am an American. I live in the midwest (Ohio) of the United States. I follow collegiate level basketball more than professional (NBA).

    I am bothered by the idea that a loss in the Olympics would be an embarrassment for team USA basketball. There has been a great deal of talk about how Basketball outside of the USA has been improving by leaps and bounds. If this is the case, then why should it be embarrassing for team USA to lose? Frankly, I think this line of thinking sells basketball in the rest of the world short. Personally, I prefer to praise the teams that beat team USA since the focus should really be on them.

    I was embarrassed by the 2004 version of team USA basketball because they clearly were not prepared. It seemed as though they spent as much time squabbling internally as they did playing basketball. They deserved to lose and they did. Despite Lebron James' gold medal guarantee, I have the sense that this team actually respects their opponents and prepares for each game.

    Regarding the idea of "me first" basketball, this years version of team USA seems to be built around pressuring the opposing team's ball handlers in an attempt to create a more wide open game. That type of basketball tends to be more flashy but can be very effective. The basic idea is to keep the other team at a near constant disadvantage by creating multiple turnovers which can lead to mismatches on the offensive end as teams face 2 on 1 or 3 on 2 situations. Since fast breaks do not rely on set offenses, sloppy play does sometimes follow. As a side note, "no-look" passes are extremely dangerous but can also be very effective since they can often take the defending team completely by surprise. I would agree that often they can be used to "show up" or belittle an opposing team or player but then again so can a simple set shot or bounce pass.

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  • 18. At 3:11pm on 17 Aug 2008, global_usa wrote:

    Please stop with all of this "wait until China comes into its own" rhetoric(which this alleged sports article eventually ends with). The whole world is enamored with a place that has a standard of living that is 1/10th-1/20th of the US, a woefully inadequate water supply, far too much pollution to control and the world's largest populus that is undemocratically governed by a tiny number of people. China will grow old before it grows rich, mark my words. It will be a middle income country at best by 2040 when it, like most of Asia, ages and shrinks. When your biggest competitive advantage is cheap labor you really dont have a barrier to entry as manufacturing moves to Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Africa et al. The same people who trumpteted the coming of a Japan dominated world will eat their words much in the same way when China staggers in its efforts for world dominance. You can believe me now or wait and see......

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  • 19. At 5:30pm on 21 Aug 2008, 5891jonathan wrote:

    USA is winning with strong team defense, athleticism, strength, bench play, and smart coaching. And it's hugely entertaining besides! What's embarassing about that, mojoriser?

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