2019 FIBA World Cup: Turkey blows a golden opportunity, and Team USA gets more than just a scare

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/5073/" data-ylk="slk:Khris Middleton">Khris Middleton</a> celebrates with Team USA after narrowly escaping with a victory. (Reuters)
Khris Middleton celebrates with Team USA after narrowly escaping with a victory. (Reuters)

Trailing 92-91 with nine seconds left, Joe Harris committed an unsportsmanlike foul to give the Turks two free throws and possession, reminding everyone watching at home that FIBA rules are entirely different and all but assuring the U.S. of defeat.

Except, Dogus Balbay and Cedi Osman missed four straight free throws, giving Team USA one final shot at victory. Jayson Tatum grabbed the fourth miss, dribbled the length of the floor and dished to Khris Middleton, who drew a foul and made both free throws. Even then, Turkey had another shot at glory, but Ersan Ilyasova’s 3-pointer sailed wide, and the Americans escaped with a 93-92 first-round victory.

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The U.S., which also beat the Czech Republic on Sunday, secured a spot in the second round with the win. The Americans are 2-0 and own tiebreakers against both the Turks and Czechs, who are are each 1-1. The U.S. wraps up first-round play at 8:30 a.m. EST against Japan on Thursday. Team Japan is currently 0-2.

It was a bizarre sequence even before the Harris foul. Myles Turner’s putback with 35 seconds left, which would have given the U.S. the lead, was waived off when Donovan Mitchell committed offensive goaltending. Kemba Walker drew an offensive foul on the other end, and Balbay stripped Turner with the shot clock turned off. That’s when Harris grabbed Balbay’s waist, attempting to stop the clock and send the Turkish point guard. FIBA rules dictated that Harris’ failure to play the ball is an unsportsmanlike foul, and the U.S. was lucky to be bailed out at the line.

The final play was not all good news for Team USA. Tatum sprained his left ankle while finding Middleton on the break. The Boston Celtics forward was helped off the floor and treated by trainers in the tunnel. He will be re-evaluated on Wednesday.

The Americans would have lost earlier had it not been for Tatum. Turkey took an 81-79 lead on Ilyasova’s tip-in with 12 seconds left. Middleton missed a game-winning 3-point attempt on the other end, but Walker saved the ball from going out of bounds, tipping it to Mitchell, who found Tatum back on the arc. Osman fouled the Celtics star, who sandwiched a pair of makes around a miss to force overtime.

Middleton (15 points), Walker (14 points, seven assists, six rebounds), Tatum (11 points, 11 rebounds), Turner (11 points, nine rebounds) Harris (11 points) and Harrison Barnes (10 rebounds) all scored in double figures for the Americans, who shot just 35 percent from the field as a team. Ilyasova’s 23 points and 14 rebounds led Turkey.

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