Team USA Showcase

Team USA trails at the half, then pulls away for 98-77 win over Turkey at FIBA World Cup

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Team USA has by far the most individual talent in FIBA World Cup play, but a collection of All-Stars can struggle at times against teams that have had the luxury of playing together for years.

That’s what we saw for much of the first half of USA’s 98-77 win over Turkey on the second day of World Cup action.

The team from Turkey imposed its will over the game’s first 20 minutes, and took a five-point lead into the half by using zone defenses and hitting three-pointers at a high percentage, while USA struggled with turnovers and couldn’t seem to knock down open shots.

Both Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving struggled in a playmaking capacity in the first half, and neither seemed to be able to consistently beat the zone by making the right choices. On the other end of the floor, Turkey slowed the pace to a crawl, and often made USA defend for all 24 seconds of the shot clock, while scoring on enough of those possessions to prevent USA from doing what it does best, which is pushing the tempo and getting out to easy scores in transition.

Eventually, USA matched the effort of the Turkish squad, and led by Kenneth Faried, managed to blow the game open with some active defensive pressure. Faried finished with 22 points on 11-of-14 shooting, to go along with eight rebounds and a few steals. Anthony Davis also got loose on the offensive end, and finished with 19 points of his own.

Derrick Rose wasn’t great in his second straight day of on-court action, and whether due to conditioning or still shaking the rust off, he simply was below average. Rose finished 0-of-4 from the field with two fouls and two turnovers, and was noticeably frustrated with his first half performance.

USA had too much talent, and it all came together for them eventually. But Turkey may have given other teams in this tournament a blueprint of how to take down the heavy favorites: slow the tempo to prevent easy points in transition, play some junk defenses which force playmaking and decision-making in unfamiliar situations, and hope that the shots from beyond the arc fall at a low percentage.

But even if all that happens, if it only continues for half of the game, you’ll still end up losing by 21 points.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates: