During the third quarter of the USA women’s basketball team’s 86-50 win in the 2012 Olympic final, BBC commentator John Amaechi said of France’s offensive performance, “Their scoring has gone from anemic to…something worse than that.”
But was their offense really that much worse in that quarter than the second quarter when they scored 10 points, two less than they did in the third? Yes and the main reason was the dramatically increased defensive effort by the U.S.
The U.S. had been killing France with offensive rebounds in the second quarter even while their shots weren’t quite falling and their ball movement was only so-so. But France remained relatively close due to U.S. turnovers in a slow-paced game – even if you could feel the momentum increasingly swinging in the USA’s favor, France’s 12-point halftime deficit was manageable.
And to France’s credit, they did a much better job keeping the U.S. off the boards in the third quarter. But a combination of three things pretty much ended France’s hopes of remaining in the game in the third quarter: the U.S. stopped turning the ball over almost entirely, France turned it over on nearly a third of their possessions, and the pace ramped up from slow to fast. It added up to an 8-minute field goal drought.
The following is a look at the key statistics by quarter:
FT Rate (FTA/FGA)
Four Factors & Synergy Stats For USA Vs. France By Quarter. Click here for descriptions of these statistics.
The U.S. just took the defense up another notch in the second half to essentially put this game away by the end of the third quarter. But as much as the turnovers tell a story about USA’s defense, the two columns on the right are also worth looking at.
The Four Factors rating is a weighted metric that I’ve used for the WNBA (and NBA) and it’s a pretty good approximation of success – 6 represents an outstanding performance, 4 is mediocre, and anything below that is…anemic(?). But that begins to illustrate something about how the USA affected France’s offense: with France turning the ball over so often, only getting two 3-point looks, and struggling to keep up with the U.S. in the open court, they had the lowest Four Factors rating of the game.
But to really underscore Amaechi’s point, the adjusted synergy rating (an invented junk stat that reflects how efficiently a team is moving the ball) is startling – in both the WNBA and thus far in the Olympics, a synergy rating of 40 or above is very good, 25 is around average, and obviously going below zero is poor. But I’ve rarely seen a team drop to -1.00 – that represents an offense that’s not just stagnant, or anemic, but barely surviving.
Just for some perspective on those numbers, Angola – who performed poorest against the U.S. by either of those metrics in the right columns – had a Four Factors rating of 1.72 and an adjusted synergy of -1.25 for the game. France did play better in the fourth quarter despite an outstanding performance by the U.S. and they were able to weather a poor second quarter, but the third quarter was just abysmal.
And most of the credit goes to the USA’s defensive effort in the second half – that was a statistical picture of dominance. But in short, without all the numbers and stuff, the U.S. dominated a previously undefeated team in almost every phase of the game in the third quarter, to the point of almost dismantling their offensive schemes with their defensive pressure.
Perhaps we can all wait to digest this before discussing where this basketball team belongs among the all-time greats, but they made the second place team look like a fringe Olympic qualifier. And that’s extremely impressive – at the very least, we have to start talking about them as among the most dominant basketball teams ever assembled relative to their era even if there’s some debate about whether they’re the best of the best.
And they still haven’t had much time to practice.