Coming off an easy FIBA World Cup opener blowout against Finland, Team USA faced its greatest test in Group C against Turkey on Sunday. But unlike their 59-point victory to start the tournament, USA Basketball had to work for a 98-77 win following an incredibly disappointing first half effort. The win put the United States to 2-0, at the top of the Group C standings.
Trailing 40-35 at the half, nothing was going right for the Americans in a rematch of the 2010 FIBA World Cup gold medal game. Turkey’s zone was giving Team USA problems, the Americans were settling for three-pointers and only made four of their 12 attempts, they were out-rebounded 21-12, they committed 14 fouls, they were out-shot 18-5 from the foul line and they had committed nine turnovers. And yet, they were still only down five, albeit to a Turkish side with only one NBA player in Omer Asik.
But in the second half, Anthony Davis (19 points on 8-of-11 shooting, six rebounds, two steals, two blocks) and Kenneth Faried (22 points on 11-of-14 shooting, eight rebounds, three steals and two blocks) took charge, using transition points, second chance opportunities and a flurry of rim-rocking alley-oops to build a six-pony lead at the end of the third quarter. Despite Turkey starting off 5-for-5 from three-point range in the period, the Americans were able to weather the storm and turn their lead into a 20-point advantage halfway through the fourth quarter.
Like Team USA’s opener against Finland, it was Faried who provided the energy on the boards and on the fast break to get the team started. After breaking up a pass, Faried once again scored the first bucket of the game on a dunk in transition. After a soul-shattering block on one end and a wicked up-and-under on the other, it seemed like Faried’s energy would help Team USA build another early lead.
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But Turkey’s zone gave the United States problems and as the Americans started settling for three-pointers, the Turks were able to get to the foul line to make up for a lot of first half turnovers. The slowed down tempo favored the Turks, who also made Team USA’s pick and roll defense look pretty shaky at times. In the second half, however, Anthony Davis came to life, scoring 11 points in the first four minutes of the third quarter.
Team USA outscored Turkey 31-20 in the period and ended up only being out-rebounded by two by the end of the game. Once the Americans were able to get out in transition and speed up the tempo of the game, Turkey wasn’t able to use a zone to keep things close. After Team USA opened the game up, easy alley-oops to Davis became the norm.
Turkey was led by Cenk Akyol (12 points), Emir Preldzic (nine points) and Sinan Guler (nine points). Asik finished with six points, eight rebounds and three blocks.
For the Americans, James Harden finished with 14 points, seven assists and three steals while Kyrie Irving added 13 points and five dimes. DeMarcus Cousins had 11 points off the bench, Stephen Curry had nine points on 3-of-6 shooting from downtown and Klay Thompson added six. Harden’s defense, ever the subject of scrutiny, was once again quite bad off the ball, but most critics of The Beard’s D should also acknowledge his ability in these FIBA games as a perennial ball hawk playing the passing lanes.
Derrick Rose, who played a team-high 23 minutes against Finland, was much less effective this time around against the Turks, tallying only two points and two rebounds in nearly 17 minutes of action. The Americans shot 53 percent from the floor and ended up shooting 36 percent from downtown after starting 4-for-12 in the first half.
Team USA’s bench, which helped the Americans blow Finland out in the tournament opener, was uncharacteristically nonexistent for the majority of the game. Every team has its off nights, but for a team that wants to capitalize on its superior bench depth in the FIBA World Cup, the United States’ reserves will be looking to contribute a lot more consistently from here on out.
All in all, this was a pretty shabby effort from Team USA through three quarters, but the Americans ended up cruising to victory once they woke up. This kind of temporary scare could galvanize the Americans into more thorough dominance through the rest of the tournament, but it also provided the rest of the world with a blueprint for competing with Team USA: slow down the tempo, go zone and hope the jumpers that are being settled for aren’t falling. Against teams like Brazil and Spain in the knockout stages, the United States will have to be much better.
Team USA’s next game is Tuesday against New Zealand in their third game of group play.