If you think international basketball is nothing more than rolling the balls out and letting the United States athletes take over then you probably assumed the U.S. would roll Turkey in their second FIBA World Cup game.
But the Turkish team, filled with smart veteran players of the international game, had a different idea. Instead of being star struck or overreacting to the United States dominance over Finland on Saturday night, the Turkish coaches instituted a game plan to slow the pace and ruin the United States love affair with open court basketball. The Turks dismantled the U.S. team’s athletic style so much so the United States was a shell of the team that romped Finland twenty four hours ago.
Credit Turkey and their veterans. They went to zone and slowed the pace and the U.S. couldn’t make perimeter shots, they were pretty hopeless, 1-9 in the first quarter. The United States team of athletes appeared confused and frustrated and nothing more than jump shooters. When NBA players are confused they go to their bread and butter- one-on-one basketball- which is always a disaster in international play.
As was the case in yesterday’s game, the first basket of the game was a Kenneth Faried dunk. But all similarities ended there. Finland did not have a dominant seven footer down low as Turkey did in Omer Asik. Asik’s activity caused all sorts of problems for the U.S. His rebounding of perimeter shots maintained a half court pace, a puzzle the United States did not know how to solve. Whenever the U.S. attempted to dial up the defense with aggression they were called for fouls.
Defensively the U.S. did their job, they created turnovers but Turkey either fouled to prevent the break or went to zone and dared the U.S. to shoot. The U.S. could not make jump shots nor were they willing to penetrate the zone.
You can’t compare national teams, so it is pretty irrelevant that the U.S. had 31 points in the first quarter against Finland. But it bears mentioning that all the U.S. could muster up with their “greatest athletes in the world” was 16 points which tied Turkey on the scoreboard.
In a reversal of fate it was the United States team that couldn’t score in the second quarter. There was little ball movement and player movement and frankly they just didn’t play smart. The zone did its job and on defense the United States, facing crafty Turkish players who have been together a long time, baited the U.S. into fouling. Turkey went to the line 16 times in the first half, the U.S. only went to the line 5 times. Turkey liked their position at halftime, up by 5.
Inexperienced in international play as many U.S. players are, how would they respond to adversity? And pressure. Because Kevin Durant and Paul George weren’t walking through the door in the second half. But Anthony Davis was.
Coach K featured Davis instead of Steph Curry, go big not small, not jacking up jump shots. Curry was disappointing not because he wasn’t making shots but he wasn’t moving the ball in the zone. James Harden was a better playmaker even as he was in foul trouble. With front court play and an inside strategy the United States took the lead. The two best players on the floor were Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried.
Once Turkish players began missing shots as was the case in the 4th quarter the fast break game of the United States was on and Turkey had no answers. The lead swelled to 26 and by then it was just dunks and open court basketball, what the United States finds familiar. And soothing. But Turkey pushed the Americans to dig deeper than they thought they would have to fight on this night. Still the bottom line is the U.S. are 2-0 in World Cup play. They beat Turkey 98-77.
New Zealand on Tuesday.