Despite another slow start, USA Basketball remained perfect in group play at the 2014 FIBA World Cup with a 95-71 win over Ukraine Thursday. But the victory comes with a slight injury scare to Kyrie Irving, who fell hard on his right hip/tailbone in the game’s final minute and limped his way to the locker room.
Luckily for Team USA, it didn’t look like anything too serious from the replay, and the Americans don’t play again until Saturday against the fourth seed from Group D (Mexico), likely a blowout game that Irving could miss if he’s still dealing with soreness.
Knowing you’re better than your opponent makes it hard to come out strong in games like this, but after falling behind 19-14 in the first quarter, Team USA responded with a 22-5 run in the second to outscore Ukraine 30-13 in the period and take a 44-32 halftime lead.
Derrick Rose, who shot a paltry 26.1 percent from the floor in his first four games, surprisingly looked spry in his fifth game in six days. Rose once again struggled from floor, going 2-for-9 from the field, but the athleticism and quickness is still there. Now he just needs to get the shots to start falling. Rose finished with four points, four rebounds and four assists, but most importantly, he looked about as athletic as we’ve seen him in the past few months.
On a night where Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried were pretty quiet in the frontcourt until garbage time, Team USA’s guards picked up the slack. Stephen Curry hadn’t exactly been capitalizing on the closer international three-point line — shooting 11-for-31 from the floor heading into Thursday’s game — but he was much better against Ukraine, scoring 14 points on 3-of-4 shooting from downtown.
James Harden played well in the second half, using a couple of his trademark three-point plays attacking the basket to finish with a team-high 17 points, five assists, three rebounds and two steals. Irving added 11 points and six assists while Klay Thompson had seven points off the bench.
In the frontcourt, Davis and Faried combined for 22 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks (most of which came in garbage time), but DeMarcus Cousins had a fine game off the bench with 11 points, three rebounds and one block. He held his own defensively, he was a problem for the Ukrainians inside in limited minutes and he ran the floor well, like on this play where D-Rose rewarded him for his effort on the fast break:
Thank you Derrick Rose! Finally a big fella gets rewarded… https://t.co/aHJY8FJCKf
— Andy Bailey (@AndrewDBailey) September 4, 2014
In the first quarter, Team USA struggled to get into a rhythm, shooting 6-for-19 from the floor. The Americans were out-rebounded 16-10 by Ukraine and faced their largest deficit of the entire tournament early on. But yet another dominant second quarter gave USA Basketball a substantial lead it wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the way.
Six players finished in double figures for Team USA, including all five starters. Ukraine, led by 15 points from former Phoenix Suns backup Slava Kravtsov, kept things close until a string of fast breaks in the fourth quarter blew the score wide open. Team USA only led by 15 heading into the final period, which meant Mike Krzyzewski wasn’t able to turn to his bench as soon as he had been so far in the tournament.
The Americans were much better from three-point territory and from the foul line. Heading into Thursday’s game, Team USA had been shooting 33.3 percent from downtown. Against Ukraine, the Americans shot an impressive 5-for-12 from three-point range (42 percent) and made 16 of their 21 free throw attempts. Team USA outscored its opponents by 165 total points in group play, giving them an average margin of victory of 33 points per game.
USA Basketball plays Mexico Saturday morning in the Round of 16.