Tag: 2010 FIBA World Championships

Durant's Gold Medal performance less magic, more an omen


If you were surprised, you need to work on your predictive logic. There was nothing surprising about Kevin Durant’s 28 point barrage to keep the good ship Team USA afloat in their FIBA Championship victory over Turkey. Nor was there anything shocking about his stunning 38 point dismantling of Lithuania in the semifinals. This is who he is. If you’ve been paying attention, this should make you shake your head in appreciation of just how incredible this kid, this 21-year-old kid, is.

The moral ascertations have already started rolling in about Durant, about how he’s the anti-LeBron, the new moral compass, and how he’ll be the best player in the NBA within a handful of years. All of these are not only entirely premature, but unfathomably lacking in perspective. Instead, let’s simply examine what Durant is revealing as his identity.

Durant’s three point attack was his particular weapon of choice today, hitting 7 of 13 from the perimeter. For all the struggles Team USA had this year in the halfcourt set, they did a remarkable job in finding ways to create space for Durant on the wing, and in the corner. From there, it was a matter of Turkey’s defense sneaking in to try and cover Team USA’s athleticism on the drive, and somehow not maintaining closing space on the best player on Team USA. The guy who had torched them from start to finish.

Durant was both opportunistic and patient. When presented with an opportunity to attack, he was aggressive. When they offered him perimeter shots, he rode that hot hand all the way to 28. He added five rebounds, two coming when the team needed to buckle down, and his defense was intent and focused.

While most of America was focused on opening weekend of the NFL, Durant put on a show in keeping Team USA afloat through three quarters of terrible shooting. It was only when Turkey ran out of steam, partially seemingly due to their frustration of being unable to make a significant dent in the American lead thanks to Durant tossing daggers like a circus performer, that the rest of Team USA woke up and buried the Turkish team once and for all.

The question we have to take from his FIBA performance is “What does this mean for his season?” Durant was already the scoring leader. His defense improved, probably more than it would have in just summer workouts alone, but still in an expected manner. His passing wasn’t more on display, nor his high post work, both limited by FIBA’s style.

But there was one thing that Durant probably made a stride in.

There were times last season, both in the regular season and their series with the Lakers, when for whatever reason, Durant wasn’t forceful in taking over in big minutes. He was brilliant, no doubt, but largely within the flow of the game. And that’s better than hogging shots and disrupting your team’s chances. But there’s something to be said for that leadership, and the leadership that comes only from riding the emotions of a team and being the focal point. Durant exhibited that leadership on all fronts in FIBA play, and that could spell huge things for the Thunder this year.

He’s already proved he can score however, whenever, over whoever. Now he may have learned how to overcome the very adversity that pushed him out of the playoffs. If his tangibles keep improving, and his intangibles make that leap?

Heaven help us all. He could have more gold sooner than we think.

Turkey squeaks past Serbia in the FIBA semifinals, will face Team USA in the final tomorrow

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semih_erden_turkey_boston_celtics.jpgThe Serbian national team held the lead virtually throughout their semifinal match with Turkey, but a mini-unraveling over the game’s final minutes and busted defensive coverage on Turkey’s final possession changed everything. Rather than the Serbians finishing their turbulent FIBA run with a finale against the Americans, they’ll be playing for Bronze, while the host nation tries to steal away the Gold.

Serbia played well, but Turkey hung in. The Turkish team kept the deficit reasonable, gave themselves a chance to win by using their depth, and seized the opportunity to take the lead by attacking the basket in the game’s closing seconds.

Serbia worked the ball to Novica Velickovic under the rim to gain a one-point lead with just 4.3 seconds remaining, leaving Turkey very little time to produce a quality attempt. Hedo Turkoglu received the inbound pass at halfcourt, and depending on who you ask, he either made a smart drop-pass to Kerem Tunceri on the wing or fumbled his way into a happy accident. Regardless of your interpretation, Tunceri turned Serbia’s over-aggressive defense against them, and drove straight to the rim on a team expecting to defend a jumper.

Serbia had one more chance to win the game, but their drawn-up oop attempt was sent back by Turkey’s (and now the Boston Celtics’) Semih Erden at the buzzer. Serbia’s game-long efforts were for naught, and the lead they fought so hard to protect and maintain over the game’s first three and a half quarters was worth nothing in the game’s final balance.

Tunceri (12), Turkoglu (16), Ender Arslan (12) and Omer Onan (14) all finished in double-figures for Turkey.

Milos Teodosic, who hit the go-ahead three for Serbia in the quarterfinal against Spain, finished with 13 points and 11 assists. Marko Keselj chipped in 18 points and seven rebounds, and Nenad Krstic had 15 and seven.

Turkey will now face Team USA in front of their home crowd tomorrow at 2:30 EST. The Americans are the definite favorites, and finished their semifinal game in completely different fashion; while Turkey clawed to keep up with Serbia before taking the game late in the fourth, Team USA kept Lithuania at arm’s length throughout most of their contest, and won by 15. Kevin Durant was simply dominant, and a Team USA defense spearheaded by Andre Iguodala completely shut down Linas Kleiza and the Lithuanian offense.

That defense will look to do the same against a pretty talented Turkish squad, and the smart money is on Team USA to take gold, even if Turkey won out in one of the tournament’s more entertaining games.

USA's big problem today? The deer they should fear.

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As Kurt discussed in our preview last night, Team USA has a number of concerns against Turkey in the FIBA World Championship game today. The crowd will be Roman Coliseum-like. Hedo Turkoglu has been playing like his 2007 version instead of last year’s version. But the biggest concern for Team USA needs to be shutting down versatile forward and Milwaukee Buck, Ersan Ilyasova.

Ilyasova is averaging 14.3 points and 7.3 rebounds in this tournament, and his length and range make him an extremely difficult player to defend. Whoever Coach K chooses to sick on him, they’re going to have to be able to defend at the rim on cuts (which Turkey runs a lot for him), using their size to not allow easy buckets, and be able to extend out to the arc to guard against his range. It’s that combination that made him one of the better players on the Bucks last year.

On defense, Ilyasova has the same breadth of coverage. He can muscle down low, especially against a Team USA without much brute size, and can cover the wings on jumpers and threes. He presents a special set of problems for USA.

Andre Igoudala and Lamar Odom might end up splitting time against him, with Igoudala’s range and athleticism able to disrupt his play, and Odom’s size capable of combatting him in the paint. Odom is ideal in this regard because Ilyasova is essentially playing the same position Odom usually does, midway between the arc and the rim.

Ilyasova fouled out of the semifinal against Serbia. If USA can draw fouls on him with their muscle, that would go a long way towards getting him out of his rhythm.  

Kevin Durant is still right to pick Luis Scola as the MVP of the World Championships

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I don’t know that there’s a good player response to questions about individual accolades, but typically, a player’s answer to that kind of prompting is used to construct or enhance the public representation of a player’s personality. They can convey arrogance or humility, hunger or passivity, appreciation or entitlement.

Or really, they’re just semi-canned responses to questions that top players know they’ll be asked at some point or another. So unsurprisingly, Kevin Durant’s answer, when asked on Wednesday about the possibility of being the MVP of the tournament, was self-deprecating and in-line with everything we think we know about the Durantula. From Chris Tomasson of NBA FanHouse:

“I doubt it,” said Durant about getting a spot on the team. “A lot of guys are doing better than I am. I’m just trying to go out there and win.”

Don’t think for a minute Durant believes he has a chance to be the Most Valuable Player even if his Americans win gold Sunday.

“He’s the best,” Durant said of Argentina forward Luis Scola, averaging 30.2 points and 8.0 rebounds in the event. “He’s had a hell of a tournament. MVP by far in this tournament. Win or lose, he has to be MVP because he’s putting on a show. He carried (Argentina on Tuesday with) 37 points. He’s tough to cover for anybody.”

Then again, maybe it isn’t self-deprecation at all. Durant’s 33-point outing today against Russia was one of the best showings in the tournament thus far, but it still doesn’t vault KD over the top of the MVP discussion. As of right now, Scola has just seven points and finds his team down 20 to an underdog Lithuania squad…yet he remains the easy pick for tournament MVP.

Five 30+ point performances in seven games, each with 57% shooting from the field or better. 195 points on 125 shot attempts. Gaudy rebounding totals.

Durant may be the top player on the tournament favorites, but Scola has been in a class of his own throughout. Durant obviously isn’t asked to shoulder quite as much of his team’s production, given Team USA’s superior depth. Yet in assessing which player is more worthy of MVP honors (not that KD isn’t a fine choice, as well), that’s hardly a decision-altering asterisk. Both players have led quality teams, but Scola’s production and performance have been off-the-charts, while Durant’s have been merely remarkable.

Team USA may have a perfect record, but they're far from flawless


chauncey_billups_team_usa.jpgFirst, the obvious: Team USA is currently undefeated, while other quality teams in the FIBA World Championships are not. That’s a credit to every player and each member of the coaching staff. Their next two games are against Iran and Tunisia, and if all goes according to plan, the U.S. national team will remain undefeated going into the elimination rounds. From a bottom-line perspective, it doesn’t get any better than that.

Chauncey Billups focused on that positive after USA’s win over Brazil, though he’s clearly aware of his team’s lackluster play. From Brian Mahoney of the Associated Press:

“We can’t worry about how much we win by, winning the same fashion as
other USA teams. All of that’s out the window,” Billups said. “All we
need to do is get wins. Win every game we can and we’ll worry about
everything else later.”

The only problem is that Team USA can’t afford to focus solely on wins and losses. The makeup of each win matters a great deal, and though the loss column remains spotless, there is some reason for concern. The Americans’ near-miss against Brazil provided a case study in what can go wrong for Team USA. One reliable big can give Lamar Odom a heap of trouble down low. Team USA’s pick-and-roll defense can be dissected. When opposing defenses increase their pressure on the USA’s ball-handlers, it’s like tapping a well of careless turnovers.

Though the Americans still boast a perfect record, their play against Brazil was anything but.

However, as I’ve noted previously in this space, the onus isn’t all on the players. The five on the floor will always deserve the majority of the credit/blame in my mind (after all, successful on-court execution is the key to any win), but the man who controls who sees the floor in the first place is also burdened with the responsibility for those decisions. There are a number of reasons why Mike Krzyzewski decided to stick with his starters for essentially the entire the fourth quarter, but in the end, that lineup scored on just two of their final 11 possessions. That’s on Chauncey Billups, Derrick Rose, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant, and Lamar Odom, surely, but it’s also on Krzyzewski.

Once the elimination rounds begin, Team USA won’t have the luxury of adjusting after a loss. They can’t wait until things get worse to figure out how to make them better. One loss and that’s it. Game over, thanks for playing, see you at the Olympics. That makes it awfully important for Team USA to work on their weaknesses now, whether they rest with the players or the coaches.

The Americans are winning, and that’s crucial. Yet their work is far from complete. Even forgetting my gripes about Coach K’s rotations, Team USA’s pick-and-roll D and half-court execution still need improvement. A team full of guards couldn’t run an offense in the fourth quarter, and that’s borderline nonsensical. On paper, perimeter play is one of Team USA’s greatest strengths, and yet in the second half against a Brazil, the USA’s guards looked like a liability.

Maybe Team USA’s preparation was the problem. Maybe it was their execution. Maybe it was Krzyzewski’s shortened rotation. Regardless, Team USA needed two missed layups, two missed free throws, and a quarter’s worth of cold shooting from the Brazilians to squeak out a victory against a good team missing two of its top players. A win is a win and all, but Team USA will have to do better.