Aug 22, 2014; New York, NY, USA; United States guard James Harden (13) controls the ball against Puerto Rico guard Carlos Arroyo (7) during the first quarter of a game at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

FIBA World Cup: Sluggish U.S. Beats Ukraine, 95-71

For the United States it was their third game in three days. Not surprisingly, a slow offensive start and an absence of energy infected the team as they played Ukraine. The United States had already wrapped up the top seed in Group C of the FIBA World Cup. So there was not much they had to prove besides getting Derrick Rose more time to get his rhythm up to par. The U.S. trailed early and their body language was of a team wanting to be anywhere else. Ukraine, not a good shooting team, used their physicality inside to match up with the U.S. athleticism. It worked in short spurts. Towards the end of the first quarter the United States trailed by five. Had Ukraine, who was coached by Mike Fratello, been more talented it would have posted a double digit lead.

Aug 22, 2014; New York, NY, USA; United States guard Kyrie Irving (10) calls a play against Puerto Rico during the second quarter of a game at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The United States kept pace, trailing throughout the second quarter but not by much. In the back of their mind was their own ability to pour it on in a five minute stretch, to obliterate a lesser team’s confidence. That happened midway through the quarter. Kyrie Irving hit a three that tied the score 25-25. Irving tied it again at 27 apiece. A deep three by Steph Curry gave the United States their second lead of the game, 30-27.  James Harden’s patented driving layup and foul extended the lead to 5 points, its largest of the game. By halftime the U.S. had a 12 point lead.

In the 3rd quarter the United States built a 17 point lead. All Ukraine had to rely on as a perimeter shooter and penetrator was Gardena, California native and Chinese basketball player Pooh Jeter. Translation: they had no chance of a comeback.  Ukraine would chip four or five points off the lead and James Harden would come back with his driving layup. Or Anthony Davis would finish off a lob.

As expected the lead blossomed to 25 in the fourth quarter. Kryie Irving took a hard spill in garbage time that had everyone’s heart in the their throat. But he was able to walk off the floor even as he was holding on to his hip.

As for the United States they were happy to emerge after one week of group play with things going pretty much according to script, Kyrie Irving’s late hip injury notwithstanding.

So far Derrick Rose made it through the first week just fine. He is still struggling to regain his form but he has not been overworked. The United States perimeter game needs to improve. But they accomplished their goal in the first week, carried by Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis. Tonight they leave for Barcelona to start single elimination play and the round of 16, hopeful that they will meet Spain a week from Sunday in the gold medal game.

So long Ukraine. Hello Mexico.

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