On top of two big losses to Russia and Australia, Yi Jianlian suffered a knee injury in the second half of Thursday’s game against the Aussies. The injury is not serious, however, and Yi is likely to play today against Brazil. (Photo: Reuters)
After a promising opening game against Spain, China lost their last two games against Russia and Australia by a combined 39 points to put their knockout qualification chances seriously in doubt.
China lost 73-54 to the Russians on Tuesday before losing 81-61 to the Aussies.
In both games, China’s inability to run good offense was a major reason why they fell and stayed behind for much of the game. Against Russia, China failed to score more than 15 points in each quarter. And against Australia, China managed to combine for 19 points in the second and fourth quarters.
Meanwhile, the Chinese were also smashed on the offensive glass — 12-2 against the Russians and 19-4 against Australia, the latter of whom shot 27 more shots than their opponents.
So why the differences between the Spain game and the last two? To start, China has shown an inability to play effectively against aggressive, physical defenses. After the Russia game, head coach Bob Donewald Jr. said “we disappeared” and “were manhandled” once the game turned physical.
“Russia is long and physical,” he added. “I am disappointed by the way we played.”
Whereas Spain plays a more conservative style on defense, opting to keep everything in front of them, both the Russians and the Australians ramped up the physicality and the pressure in order to get Big Red out of their comfort zone. Specifically, they’ve ran into problems as their opponents have made it a priority to deny ball reversals.
In Bob Donewald’s motion offense, where pick-and-rolls are mostly eschewed in favor of backcuts, off-ball screens and weak side action, getting good ball reversal from one side to the other is paramount to running good offense. The Russians, both longer and stronger than the Chinese at almost every position, denied passes to China’s favored ball-reversal targets, Wang Zhizhi and Yi Jianlian. With no way to reverse the floor, Russia and Australia limited offensive action to one side of the court. The result: A lot of “random” and a lot of bad shots at the end of the shot clock. Chinese guards have a long reputation of playing poorly against pressure defense, and the past two games have been no exception as both Liu Wei and Chen Jianghua have struggled to get their team into an offensive flow. Ditto for China’s bigs, who haven’t been able to handle double teams on the block.
Further making things difficult is that China doesn’t hit the offensive glass and can’t score in transition, making almost all of their offense half-court reliant. Without ways to get easy buckets, the only method for China to score has been in the half-court. And with two sub-40% shooting nights over the last two games, efficiency in their half-court offense has been a major issue.
Still, basketball is a two-sided game and as Leon Zhang illustrates below, China’s defense — specifically their transition defense — has been poor as well. ( For a better look, check out http://2012.sohu.com/20120731/n349507223.shtml for video.)
In the second quarter, Russia pushes the ball on a fast break after rebounding the ball. With three players back and a fourth on his way to join the action, China looks to be in good position to defend against Russia’s transition offense.
But in less than two seconds, China’s defense falls apart as they forget to account for a trailing Timofey Mozgov. After turning his head back, the ball handler, Victor Khryapa, stops at the left elbow and draws Wang Zhizhi up and away from the basket. The void in the paint left by Wang presents a problem because Yi Jianlian has been beaten down the floor by Mozgov (who is a blur in this photo). After Wang converges on the ball handler…
…Mozgov slips inside for the easy dunk as more than half of China’s team is caught looking on. This play was indicative of China’s poor transition defense, most of which was due to a lack of effort in sprinting back on defense.
If this sounds like a super negative, anti-China post, its not. China simply doesn’t have the talent to win in what is an extremely difficult Group B. Whereas teams have multiple NBA players and deep benches, China has Yi Jianlian, a few solid role players and a long list of players who are simply overmatched against elite international competition. China has run into problems in the second quarter when they’re forced to use their bench. Against the Aussies, Donewald played six guys 20+ minutes in an attempt to minimize their disadvantages in depth, but at the end of the day the reality is simple: This is a one-man team in the form of Yi Jianlian. And until the CBA can develop multiple international-level players, they’re always going to have trouble going deep in the Olympics or the World Championship.
The one good news for China: Yi, who hurt his knee in the second half against Australia, is expected to play against Brazil. The bad news, though: With three NBA bigs (Tiago Splitter, Nene and Anderson Varejao) to go alongside Leandro Barbosa, the Chinese are heavy underdogs. If they lose tonight, they’re officially eliminated from the knock-out round.