Do not let what appears like yet another blowout score fool you. Team USA may have downed Turkey in the FIBA World Cup on Sunday by a 98-77 mark, but this squad was put through the paces on Sunday.
The outfit knew it would have a challenge on its hand as it set to take on Turkey in the second official game of its World Cup run. The team knew that the international stalwart boasted far more international-level talent than the Finnish squad that Team USA easily dispatched on Saturday, coach Mike Krzyzewski’s crew understood that it would have to properly execute offensively in the face of an expected Turkish zone, and the still-developing team knew it would have to build upon what limited chemistry it had developed during a pell-mell practice and exhibition season, and Saturday’s blowout win.
Turkey’s zone stylings and competent offense were enough to not only keep the score close in the first half, in stark contrast to Saturday’s Team USA blowout win over Finland, but Turkey actually established a well-earned five-point lead heading into halftime. The Ergin Ataman-helmed lineup baited Team USA into what felt like solid enough three-point and midrange tries, while employing an NBA-styled screen and roll attack on its own offensive end. Turkey eschewed the midrange shot and relied on a series of either long range bombs or attempts at the rim, in an attack that wouldn’t look out of place at a San Antonio Spurs practice.
On Team USA’s offensive end, the squad’s own three-point attempts could be argued away. The roster is littered with lights-out shooters from long range, shooters that are now working behind a shortened international three-point line, and though the team’s attempts from that end could be classified as “impatient,” they certainly weren’t poor or low-efficiency tries.
The problem is that Team USA missed eight of nine three-point attempts in the first quarter, and it needed Turkey’s litany of turnovers (13 in the first half) to keep things close. Turkey made 8-13 shots from the field in the second quarter, including one missed half court heave at the buzzer, and for a while the game resembled Team USA’s loss to Greece in the 2006 FIBA World Championships. That defeat saw an ill-prepared lineup fall victim to sound ball movement and stout defense, as the players were out-maneuvered and the coaching staff was certainly outcoached.
Despite the halftime deficit, Team USA’s fortunes never seemed all that desperate. All it needed was a few counter moves offensively and for the shooting percentages to eventually work their way back toward what we expect from this admirably talented young lineup.
Team USA immediately set Anthony Davis to work in the first possession of the second half, he responded with a three-point play, and on the other end Turkey responded with eight third quarter turnovers. Team USA’s pick and roll defense stiffened, its active hands continued to frustrate Turkey’s ball handlers, and the ensuing transition possessions turned what was once a competitive ballgame into an unrepresentative rout.
Turkey still managed five third quarter three-pointers, but Team USA’s withering full court defense eventually broke the game wide open. Anthony Davis continued to star, he managed 19 points and six rebounds and several gorgeous alley-oop finishes. Kenneth Faried’s weak side defense, as is his custom, was a little lacking; but he also counts all-out aggression and active hustle amongst his other customs, and as a result (off of absolutely no plays called for his number) the Denver Nuggets forward led Team USA with 22 points and eight rebounds.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski did well to settle Team USA’s affairs as the contest moved along, and though the quick-hit perimeter looks in the first half were a little worrying, they genuinely were not poorly-conceived attempted bombs in the face of Turkey’s rather formidable matchup zone. The best news for Coach K’s crew is that his squad will not line up against anywhere near as strong a challenge as it rounds out its Group C bracket schedule, as contests against New Zealand (on Tuesday), the Dominican Republic (Wednesday) and Ukraine (Thursday) will seem like a relative breeze in comparison to what Team USA stared down on Sunday.
That doesn’t mean there still isn’t room to grow, and learn. Luckily, you get the feeling that Team USA understands this.
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