Consider this World Cup a reminder just how ridiculously deep the American hoop talent pool is.
When the USA opened training camp in Las Vegas the talk was all about who was not there — No LeBron James, no Carmelo Anthony, no Kevin Love, no Blake Griffin. Then Paul George suffered his horrific injury. Then Kevin Durant pulled out. Plenty of armchair pundits talked about the USA JV team going to Spain.
Didn’t matter. What mattered was the guys that went — led by Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Anthony Davis — were more talented than everyone they faced and, just as importantly, played harder and more aggressively than everyone they faced. The USA was clear and away the best team (Spain blew their chance to prove otherwise).
It culminated on Sunday when the USA crushed Serbia 129-92 in the Gold Medal game to give Team USA the World Cup title for the second straight World Cup title. The USA went 9-0 in the World Cup with an average mr won every game by at least 21 points (no team in World Cup/championship history had won every game by 20 or more before).
With the win the USA is automatically qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics (so we don’t need to send a team to FIBA Americas next summer).
The key guy against Serbia was Kyrie Irving, who torched Serbian point guard and star Milos Teodosic to the tune of 26 points including going 6-of-6 from three. That performance cemented his spot as the World Cup MVP (Kenneth Faried was close and did make the all tournament team).
Another big key Sunday was the USA shot 15-of-30 from three for the game, spacing the floor and knocking down shots better than they have all tournament. Serbia, already not a great defensive team, had no answer.
Things looked like they might be a little more interesting in the first couple minutes.
Serbia raced out to an early 12-5 lead by pulling USA bigs out to deal with Teodosic pick-and-roll, then having other guys make nice backdoor cuts. They attacked and got two quick fouls on Anthony Davis. Combine that with Serbia shooting 7-of-7 to start and the lead got out to 15-7.
But when DeMarcus Cousins came in for Davis the game started to change. His energy inside was one of the other central stories of this game (he finished with 11 points, 9 rebounds and two blocks).
With a renewed defensive energy the USA went on a 15-0 run of its own. It was one of those flash flood runs the USA had blitzed teams with all tournament. Quickly the USA tied the game after Cousins had a fantastic block at the rim, was fouled when he came down, then hit tow free throws to tie at 15-15.
That’s when the Kyrie Irving show really started. First he hit two long two-point jumpers, then a driving transition layup, and suddenly it was 21-15 USA.
Irving was on fire early, with15 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the first quarter, he was pushing the ball in transition and in the lane, just blowing up the Serbian defense.
From there the rout is on, with the USA hitting 9-of-13 from three to start the game. It was a team effort with Rudy Gay making plays, Faried flying to the rim, Klay Thompson knocking down threes but more importantly for him playing strong defense on Teodosic. USA was finding mismatches and exploiting them, maybe it’s a bit isolation heavy but it worked because of the advantages the USA have.
The key for the USA was the defense. After Serbia started 7-of-7 from the floor they went 4-of-16 for the stretch when the USA pulled away. Against the relentless athleticism of the USA Serbia had no answers, they could not find an offensive rhythm. Meanwhile the USA just exposed the Serbian defense (they tried to ICE the pick and roll but you need to protect the rim better to do that).
The USA was up 67-41 at the half and the second half of the game was a lot of garbage time. This one was over.
There is no nation in the world that can roll out the depth of talent the USA does. It overwhelms everyone they face. Anthony Davis was the USA’s best big man all tournament but when he got in foul trouble Sunday Cousins took over and was a force. It was like that all tournament. Stephen Curry, Thompson, even at points Derrick Rose made plays (he did not score in the gold medal game going 0-of-4 shooting but did have a team high six assists).
It was a dominant performance all tournament long, and just a reminder that, while the gap is shrinking over time, the USA remains at the top of the world’s basketball mountain.