Finland is no Spain, but USA Basketball quickly made it known to the world that even without the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge, they’re still the hands down favorites in the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
In their opening game against the Finns, Team USA’s stifling defense put their opponent away in the second quarter and cruised to a 114-55 victory. The Americans scored more points in the first half than Team Finland did in the entire game, building a 60-18 halftime advantage by holding the Finns to two points and zero field goals. Team Finland shot 0-for-17 in the period.
It was never going to be much of a contest against the 39th ranked Finns, but after struggling out the gate, Team USA opened up a 15-point lead at the end of the first quarter and used a tremendous defensive effort to put the game well out of reach in the first half.
Finland 2nd quarter shot chart. pic.twitter.com/krZ5oWDWgP
— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) August 30, 2014
Believe it or not, James Harden set the tone for Team USA early on the defensive end, turning a few steals into easy transition points. He finished with nine points, three rebounds, three assists, four steals and one block. Kenneth Faried brought energy to the glass and had a couple of quick second chance points to start the Americans off early. Anthony Davis displayed his all-around brilliance as one of the tournament’s most formidable two-way players and led USA Basketball with 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting to go with four rebounds.
From the bench, Team USA got 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting from Klay Thompson and 12 points, three assists, two rebounds, two blocks and one steal from Derrick Rose. Thompson was automatic in catch-and-shoots when the Finns left him open on the perimeter and Rose looked as explosive as ever on both ends of the floor, like one drive in the first half when he crossed his defender, burst to the rim and threw down a vintage two-handed slam.
Finland’s starting center, Gerald Lee, picked up three fouls less than three minutes into the game and from there, Team USA dominated in the paint and on the perimeter. Kyrie Irving, Andre Drummond and DeMarcus Cousins added nine points apiece while Rudy Gay put up 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting. Shawn Huff and Petteri Koponen scored 12 points each to lead Team Finland.
The Americans will want to continue their defensive efforts through the FIBA World Cup, especially after forcing 31 Finnish turnovers and out-rebounding their opponent by 15. Every player scored for Team USA, and only Derrick Rose (3-for-8) and DeMar DeRozan (1-for-5) shot less than 56 percent from the floor. The Americans shot 59 percent from the field but converted only six of their 18 three-point attempts.
Team USA continues group play tomorrow against Turkey, their biggest challenge in Group C. Finland and their ever-supportive fans will try to regroup tomorrow in a game against Ukraine.