There’s nobody else in the NBA who plays the same role as Luis Scola. He’s the instigator, the guy whose impact on the game goes beyond the court. He’s a breaker of mental fortitude, one who plays beyond the whistle, quite literally.
Such was the case in Team USA’s 126-97 victory against Scola’s Argentina team in the final game of Olympic group play on Monday.
In a game of chippy play, the Phoenix Suns forward’s tactics could arguably have both worked for him and against him, a difference that can easily be pinpointed by two very different halves.
Scola finished with 11 points and three boards to go with two assists. He looked good taking one dribble out of the high post and kicking it to a teammate standing above the three-point line, and of course scored most of his points with his low-post game.
Scola also drew four fouls on the Americans, who appeared nonchalant and timid in the first half — the Red, White and Blue led just 60-59 at the break. But in the end, that similar instigation by the Argentinians led to the awakening of the American squad that early on looked like it was trying to light a spark to a sopping-wet set of firewood.
Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins summed it up well early on in the game.
“Argentina knows how to muck up the game,” he said. “They know how to irritate you.”
Scola, along with Manu Ginobili (16 points, six assists), is at the heart of the irritation.
Here’s a short list of how Scola did that:
- Chris Paul (18 points) may or may not have given Argentinian point guard Facundo Campazzo a cheap shot off of the ball in the second half. Following that incident, Campazzo may or may not have intentionally hit Carmelo Anthony in the man region after a three-point release. The result was Scola, who was not in the game, making his way to the USA bench to chat with an angry coach Mike Krzyzewski before being pulled away by his teammates.
- On a USA possession where an inbound pass called for center Tyson Chandler to catch an alley-oop, Scola shoved Chandler mid-air, then reacted as if he had been fouled on the backscreen.
- Scola scored on a fast-break layup, and as Anthony attempted to take the ball out of bounds after the play, Scola knocked the ball out of his hands to prevent the inbound and delay the game.
- Early in the first quarter, Scola drove and was fouled by a reaching defender off the ball, which prompted a whistle. He continued into the body of Chandler, who shoved Scola to bring about a second official’s whistle.
- Upon Kevin Love entering the game, the matchup of the game was on. Remember when Love stepped on Scola’s face? Scola quickly drew a foul on Love with about three minutes to go in the first quarter. On the ensuing USA possession, Scola fell to his back — a flop – on a one-dribble drive by Kevin Love, who hit an 18-footer as Scola laid on the deck, and Love hit a three-pointer against Scola the next time down the floor. Scola got back at Love with his traditional post-up game a few possessions later, getting solid, deep position in the post before a little jump hoop gave him two of his points.
In the first half, Scola’s tactics meant well for Argentina, which forced out-of-rhythm jumpers by the US. Meanwhile, they kept the game close with the physical, half-court play on the offensive end, which was partially thanks to a soft US interior defense that gave up 65 percent shooting in the first quarter.
The number of fouls both drawn and committed by the Argentinians kept Team USA out of transition, and though the Americans shot well from three-point range, it was thanks to a packed-in defense, Scola playing the middle of it.
But the second half spelled out doom. Credit Krzyzewski for lighting a fire under his squad, which came out of the halftime break by feeding LeBron James (18 points, five assists) on post-ups against Andres Nocioni. The inside-out attack of the Americans led to a hot streak by Kevin Durant (28 points, three steals) that pushed the lead to double-digits and beyond, and Scola only played 18 minutes — mostly in the first and third quarters — as the US pulled away.
And that was the extent of the mentioned instigation.
It’s good for playing Kevin Love for a game here or there, baiting him into committing a technical foul. It’s good for an occasional momentum swing.
But on Monday, it was partially fuel to Team USA’s anger that was capitalized by a Russell Westbrook dunk and following technical foul for taunting. And a 29-point loss.
Some people may hate Scola’s style. Some will love it.
In the same light, sometimes it will bring about success, while other times — like when playing against a vastly superior opponent that thrives upon motivation — it’ll backfire.
Monday’s Argentina/USA matchup might be a prequel to a semifinals showdown. The USA will take on Australia on Wednesday at 2:15 p.m. MST while Scola’s squad will take on South American neighbor Brazil at noon MST. The winner of those two games will then face one another.
Here’s the complete bracket.