The 2014 FIBA World Cup of Basketball has been discussed largely in terms of a gold-medal matchup between the United States and Spain, but we're still several games away from that contest. In a sports world that sees such widely anticipated matchups never materialize, it's sometimes best never to assume something is a foregone conclusion. Then again, anyone who watched Team USA's Round of 16 game against Mexico on Saturday can be forgiven for thinking that at least one of the teams will see little competition before the final.
Team USA rolled Mexico 86-63 in a game that rarely felt as close as that final score. Despite a valiant effort from the underdogs, the Americans never looked in real danger. It remains to be seen if future games will introduce more doubt.
The dominance started early, with Team USA jumping out to a 23-13 lead after one quarter. To its credit, Mexico did not capitulate, slowing the game down in the second and frustrating the Americans with a zone that led to several turnovers. At the other end, Mexico depended on current NBA free agent Gustavo Ayon, a role player known for his hustle. For the national team, though, Ayon is something of an unorthodox star, a post player who gets by on crafty moves and effort. As the obvious centerpiece of the offense, Ayon managed to score 25 points on 11-of-19 shooting, adding eight rebounds in a strong performance. It would not be surprising to see him get several offers after his fine play in this tournament.
Unfortunately for Mexico, Team USA had little trouble containing Ayon's limited supporting cast. Mexico scored just 38 points over the first three quarters and shot only 38.9 percent from the field for the game. That lack of firepower proved to be a big problem in the third, when Stephen Curry caught fire from outside on his way to a team-high 20 points on 6-of-9 shooting from beyond the arc. Curry struggled to find his stroke at the start of the World Cup's group play, but he has improved over the course of the tournament and once again looks like the perimeter weapon all basketball fans know him to be. On the strength of Curry's output, Team USA ended the third quarter with a 28-point lead and turned the fourth quarter into extended garbage time.
It's difficult to learn too much about a team in a rout, but the ease with which Team USA dispatched Mexico suggests continued success is in order. DeMarcus Cousins made all five of his field goals for 11 points and seven rebounds, continuing a run of solid performances in which he has showed that he can join Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis in testing Spain's formidable frontcourt. In general, Team USA seems to have used the absence of Kevin Durant and other elite scorers as an opportunity to rely on balance. In their six games so far, only Faried has repeated as the team's leading scorer, with no player getting more than 22 points in any contest. It's an open question as to who will pace the team in any one game, and that's a strength rather than a weakness.
Team USA will face Slovenia in the quarterfinals. Slovenia served as Team USA's final exhibition opponent before the World Cup — the United States won in a blowout. (Also, Slovenian star Goran Dragic was not very happy at the circumstances that led to his team's potential rematch with Team USA.) Prior results don't always predict the future, but there's currently little reason to think that head coach Mike Krzyzewski's team will fail to make it to the final.
More NBA coverage:
- - - - - - -