Author: Kurt Helin

2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup - Day Eleven

FIBA World Cup USA vs. Serbia preview: Serbia no pushover but Americans should grab gold


The closest any team has come to beating Team USA at the FIBA World Cup was Turkey back in the group stage, where the Americans by five at the half and ended up winning by “only” 21 points.

Serbia has the talent and system to keep it about that close. Maybe.

What had been expected to be a gold medal showdown with Spain has instead morphed into what should be another comfortable USA win with Serbia all that is between them and gold (3 p.m. ET on ESPN 2). Don’t get me wrong, Serbia has some NBA-level talent on the roster, they are not intimidated, and they are playing well right now, but once again the Americans should be able to overwhelm with athleticism and skill and pick up the gold. Comfortably.

For Serbia’s puncher’s chance to land a whole lot of things have to go right. That will start with their star point guard Milos Teodosic (who spurned the Grizzlies to stay at CSKA Moscow) who must have a monster game. Teodosic is a quality pick-and-roll point guard who can both shoot it (14.1 points a game at 55.2 percent shooting) or find the open man if the defense lapses.

Serbia’s offense often consists of a pick-and-roll out top between Teodosic and Miroslav Raduljica (who sat on the Bucks bench last season) with shooters spacing the floor everywhere, such as the Suns’ 27th pick from the last draft Bogdan Bogdanovic or former NBA player Nenad Krstic. Raduljica just sets the screen and rolls hard to the rim. It’s a good system, one that Greece, Brazil and France have not been able to figure out in the knockout rounds as all of those world powers fell to Serbia.

But the USA brings a different level of athleticism to the party. Kyrie Irving will start on Teodosic and he can be disruptive. Then when Teodosic comes around the pick he will see the long arms of Anthony Davis, who can shut off the drive and still recover to the rolling Raduljica (and you can expect weak-side help from the energetic Kenneth Faried there). When Irving gets a break the USA rolls in Derrick Rose — who has moved well and played good defense this tournament even as his shot has not fallen — and they also play Stephen Curry at the point. Basically Teodosic is going to have to play about 35 strong minutes while Mike Krzyzewski keeps rolling in fresh, more athletic guards to throw at him.

The bottom line is that there have been things to pick apart about the USA defense this tournament, but the healthy gap in athleticism between them and every opponent has not allowed anyone to really exploit those flaws. This will be the same case. Serbia might stick close for a half as they throw their best punches at the Americans, but the USA will absorb those and eventually blow the game open with a big run.

Serbia’s defense this tournament has not been great, which will be an issue against the attacking and good shooting of the USA. Also Serbia is willing to play up-tempo — but they can’t in this one. If they get in a track meet with the Americans this will be over fast. Serbia needs to follow the Turkish model of slowing the game down, including fouling out at mid court when it seems the USA will get on the break.

Serbia has quality players, just not ones of the same quality and without the depth of the USA bench (and that is even with Rudy Gay having a busted jaw). The Americans have had their moments of sleepwalking this tournament, but you can expect them to show up focused with the gold medal on the line.

The fact is Serbia looks on paper to be just another speed bump between the USA and gold — they can slow the Americans down a little but not stop them. It would take a lot of things (including help from the notorious FIBA referees) to keep this game inside 20 points. Serbia is confident and should be playing with nothing to lose.

But they are going to lose. This is the USA’s big day.

France beats Lithuania to win World Cup bronze

Nicolas Batum, Jonas Valanciunas

France came into the World Cup the defending European champs however they also came in without Tony Parker. With that came doubts… all of which were erased when the French played a great defensive game and knocked off host (and one of the two favorites) Spain.

Saturday, France had one more good run in them. Down seven to Lithuania entering the fourth quarter of the bronze medal game, they got a couple late game driving lay-ups by Boris Diaw that ultimately gave the French a 95-93 win.

France medaled at the World Cup, which is a big step for them.

Nicolas Batum of the Trail Blazers blossomed as a scoring option for France the last couple games and led France with 27 points on 8-of-12 shooting, and his attacking style got him to the line 11 times. Point guard Thomas Heurtel added 13 points for France.

The Raptors’ center Jonas Valanciunas had another huge game for Lithuania with 25 points and nine rebounds.

There will be players that get a bounce out of the World Cup and will carry it over to the NBA season. For example, the most obvious example with Team USA likely will be Kenneth Faried. I would watch to see how Valanciunas and Batum come out of this and into the NBA season. They could see a bounce as well.

The USA will play Serbia on Sunday (3 ET ESPN) for the gold medal. Team USA is a 21 point favorite going into the game according to the betting sit Bovda.

Serbia’s Miroslav Raduljica with lucky tip-in bucket. That mattered. (VIDEO)

Serbia's Miroslav Raduljica

The crazy thing is this mattered — this was a three point game with 17 seconds left and trailing France had the ball. Imagine if this had been a turnover.

That is Serbia’s Miroslav Raduljica (of the Bucks last season) who sets the high pick, rolls into the lane where he gets good post position, turns to collect the entry pass, then fumbles it… right into the bucket.

He laughed all the way back up the court.

I’m really pumped for the gold medal game beard-off between Raduljica and James Harden.

Serbia holds off furious French comeback, wins to advance to gold medal game vs. USA

Milos Teodosic, Rudy Gobert

Nobody was expecting Serbia to be here.

They had to beat Italy in the seventh place game at EuroBasket last summer to even qualify for this summer’s World Cup. When they got to Spain this summer in pool play where they were a pedestrian 2-3 and not looking like a team to fear.

Now they are in the gold medal game. Sometimes what matters is getting hot at the right time.

Friday in the other World Cup semi-final Serbia raced out to a huge lead behind guard Milos Teodosic, who finished with 24 points and was a game high +25, then held off a Nicolas Batum-led French charge (the Trail Blazer had 35 points).

Serbia hit their free throws down the stretch and picked up a 90-85 win to advance to the gold medal game Sunday against Team USA (3 p.m. ET on ESPN).

Serbia will be overmatched and a huge underdog against the USA in that game, but they do a couple of things that could give the Americans trouble.

That all starts with Teodosic on the pick-and-roll (he’s good and long resisted NBA overtures). He is a crafty, smart point guard who can read how the team plays the high pick — Serbia has the big roll hard to the rim and spreads the court with three shooters — then he can pull up and knock down the shot or make the smart pass.

France didn’t know how to handle him. Against Spain in their previous game France’s pick-and-roll coverage was spot on, with bigs showing and recovering with precision. That defense held Spain to 52 points —Teodosic and Serbia were scoring at will early.

Serbia went on a 10-0 first quarter run to go up 20-10 early and from their they kept stretching the lead out. Serbia’s guards were making plays and shots, plus they as a team were getting out and running. Serbia was up 14 at the half and held a double digit lead through the third, seeming to coast in for the win.

Then France got hot on offense.

The French offense had been pedestrian most of this World Cup — they miss Tony Parker — but behind Batum hitting every ridiculous shot you can think of, they closed the gap slowly but surely. He got help from the Spurs’ Boris Diaw (13 points) and the Magic’s Evan Fournier (10).

Still, it felt like Serbia’s big man Miroslav Raduljica (last season of the Bucks) fumbled a post entry pass right up into the basket.

The French would not quit and were down 3 and had the ball with 17.7 seconds left — and Serbia fouled to prevent the three. In the NBA there is a debate about fouling late up three, in Europe they do it early and often. It worked, the French guard missed his second free throw, then it became a free throw game that Serbia won.

It’s an amazing result for Serbia, it’s been a great run. They should be proud of the silver medal they will go home with.

Hawks GM Danny Ferry releases statement on his leave of absence, apologizes again

Detroit Pistons v Cleveland Cavaliers, Game 6

Atlanta Hawks GM Danny Ferry has taken an indefinite leave of absence in the wake of the controversy surrounding comments he made on a conference call with owners about soon to be free agent Luol Deng.

Ferry said he was paraphrasing a scouting report, but you can hear him on the audio of the call saying, “He has a little African in him. Not in a bad way, but he’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front but sell you counterfeit stuff out the back….. For example, he can come out and be an unnamed source for a story and two days later come out and say, ‘That absolutely was not me. I can’t believe someone said that.’ But talking to reporters, you know they can [believe it].”

Ferry released his own statement on Friday:

“No words can adequately describe my remorse for the hurt that I have caused many people through the statements I repeated, most importantly Luol Deng.

“Luol is a good man who I have known for many years and he has done a tremendous amount of good for his country and around the world. I apologize to Luol and I apologize to all that I have offended. As I have said, while these were not my words, I deeply regret repeating them. Almost all the background information I provided during the lengthy presentation regarding Luol was positive and my personal and professional recommendation during the call was very much in favor of adding Luol to our team but I never should have uttered those offensive remarks and for that I apologize.

“My focus moving forward is to tirelessly work to rebuild trust with this community and with our fans. I realize that my words may ring hollow now and my future actions must speak for me. I will maximize my time during this leave to meet with community leaders and further educate myself and others on the extremely sensitive issues surrounding race, diversity, and inclusion. I will find a way to make a positive difference in this area, and further learn from the sensitivity training that I will go through.”

Deng has commented on this already, basically saying he is proud to be African and represent that continent. He also said he was sad to see race come into player evaluation like this.

Ferry is also caught in a bit of an ownership fight here — minority owner Michael Gearon Jr. used to have a bigger say in the organization (particularly with the roster/basketball side) but he had been effectively sidelined by Ferry and majority owner Bruce Levenson. Gearon called for Ferry’s job after this comment and is clearly trying to get some power back. This is all a continuation of one of the more dysfunctional ownership groups in the league (they sued each other a few years back).

None of that excuses Ferry’s comments.

As I have said on multiple occasions, his job is to read these reports and be a filter of them. There is no situation where passing that along to ownership could seem like a good idea.

Ferry is going to fight to keep his job (and he’s well liked around the league, he will have a basketball job somewhere if not with the Hawks). The problem is that whatever new owner is coming in — Levenson is selling his share after a separate email he sent suggesting ways the Hawks could draw more white people to their games — will need to repair a lot of relationships in the Atlanta area, including with sponsors and season ticket holders. I don’t see how he does that with Ferry and the shadow of this issue still on the organization.