Oh, you thought that the U.S. men's Olympic basketball team could cruise to a gold medal?
Apparently, so did they.
The USA might end up winning the gold medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics with ease, but that's only because they will go against weak competition from here on out.
Australia is not weak competition. They certainly proved that Wednesday night in Group A play.
Had a couple of Carmelo Anthony 3s not fallen, the United States would have lost Wednesday night, and they would have deserved it. The Americans' shaky performance that led to a close-call 98-88 win was not a fluke.
The United States played on cruise control Wednesday, running an uninspired -- often static -- one-pass-at-best offense and a lazy defensive scheme that the Australians had no problem carving up with backdoor cuts.
The USA can get away with that stuff against China and Nigeria -- but not Australia.
The Boomers are not a group of ragtag guys with day jobs. Kyle Lowry wasn't trying to cross up a dude who works as a police officer in Adelaide. The Australians start five NBA players and had a bench with NBA-level talent.
That level of skill might not have matched up with Team USA's talent -- the Americans had 11 of the best 12 players in the game -- but as we saw Wednesday in Rio, cohesiveness goes a long way.
The Aussies led at halftime -- the first time the USA has trailed after two periods at the Olympics since 2004 -- and the U.S. didn't counter tactically in the second half. There weren't any major offensive or defensive adjustments, just more of the same for two more quarters. Coach Mike Krzyzewski didn't even try out a smallball lineup against the Australians' slow front court. The Americans knew they had more talent, so they hoped their shots fell.
The game had the feel of an early-round contest in the NCAA basketball tournament, and anyone who follows college basketball knows that hoping shots fall is a great way to get upset.
Though, as we learn every March, not every upset bid comes through.
Whether it was the Americans' contested shots falling or Australia's legs fading that sealed the contest, Team USA's strategy in Wednesday's game is hardly foolproof.
This is likely much ado about nothing, though. All things considered, the USA playing ugly basketball the rest of the tournament probably won't matter.
The Americans are so much more talented than the rest of the tournament that they don't need to play good basketball -- they don't need to show the cohesion and understanding in movement that Australia displayed Wednesday. If the Aussies couldn't beat the U.S. with the best performance they'll turn in this summer, who is going to take down Team USA? France, Spain, Argentina -- those teams aren't on the same level as the Australians this year, so they're not even close to the Americans.
Still, the U.S. shouldn't take comfort in the fact that they won by double digits Wednesday. Melo -- arguably the greatest Olympic basketball player ever -- isn't going to score 31 on spot 3s every game, and Kyrie Irving isn't going to hit a silly, contested fadeaway 3 in the clutch -- a la Game 7 of the NBA Finals -- every night (try as he might.)
Perhaps this is the wake-up call the USA needs -- perhaps Wednesday's close call will convince the coaching staff and players to actually run some offensive sets that include things like multiple screens and passes as the tournament progresses. Hey, if they're feeling really saucy, maybe they'll call for some penetration into the lane.
Or maybe Wednesday was the high tide and the U.S. players will look at their shoes and realize they're still dry.
Either way, they won't be able to attribute Wednesday's close call to luck or chance. The USA flirted with a disaster, but flirtation might be as close as they get this summer.