Tag: FIBA World Championships

USA uses "Big Ds" — Durant and defense — to beat Turkey, win gold


Thumbnail image for durant_usa_fun.jpgThink back a couple weeks ago to the start of the FIBA World Championships, to all those concerns about Team USA — they were not big enough, they lacked international experience, they were too young.

You can get caught up in what a team can’t do and ignore what it can. And this version of Team USA had two things going for it:

Tenacious defense and Kevin Durant.

And those two things were enough to get the USA the gold medal, beating host Turkey in front of a loud crowd, 81-64. The win qualifies the USA for the 2012 Olympics in London, meaning all the top players can take next summer off from USA basketball and focus on the coming lockout.

Durant finished with 28 points but in the first half he carried the USA. Turkey went to its aggressive match up zone and the USA took a while to adjust, with 9 points on the 14 possessions after they started it.

But Durant kept the USA alive — Durant shot 7-12 in the first half, everyone else on Team USA was 6-26 (23 percent). From three, Durant was 5-9, the rest of Team USA was 1 of 13.

Durant was named Tournament MVP.

But maybe bigger than Durant Sunday — and all tournament — was the USA’s aggressive defense. They pressured the ball and tried to use their athleticism all over the court, and that more than compensated for the lack of size on this team.

The USA’s defense forced a veteran Turkey squad into four shot clock violations. In the first half, while the USA’s offense was sluggish, the defense held Turkey to 34 percent shooting with 10 turnovers.

In the third, again with some baskets by Durant leading the way, the USA started to pull away from Turkey, stretching the lead to 20. You could see the defeat start to creep into the body language of Turkish players — they defended Durant well, doubled him and he hit a turnaround fadeaway over them in the lane, and Turkish shoulders just slumped. Soon the transition baskets that Turkey had kept the USA from getting all game started to come as Turkey just succumbed.

Lamar Odom may be unfocused at times, but he brings it in big games and had 15 points and 11 boards in this one, doing it against a very big Turkey front line. Russell Westbrook added 13 points. Hedo Turkoglu had 16 points to lead Turkey on 5 of 8 shooting and 4 of 4 from three.

It was a well earned gold medal for Team USA, a tournament where the star that is Durant really started to break through, and where USA basketball showed a commitment to defense it not always has. When teams this talented are committed on defense, they don’t lose.

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.

Preview: USA v. Turkey, the ultimate road test. With an Olympic trip on the line.


durant_usa_fun.jpgKevin Durant was part Texas playing at Oklahoma. That was nothing.

Chauncey Billups has been the road team in the NBA Finals. But that was nothing like this.

Lamar Odom has heard the fans in Boston during the NBA finals, but he has heard nothing like what he will Sunday.

The USA is going to take on Turkey in Turkey for the World Championship. It’s the finals, so winner gets an automatic trip to London and the 2012 Olympics. Loser gets a trip to their regional qualifying tournaments.

This is a game the USA should win on paper, but they have played in nothing like the conditions they will see today. A building full of hostile fans, with many of them right next to the court. You want to think it is like a college atmosphere, but that is immature teen angst compared to what awaits the Americans Sunday. This will be the ultimate test.

Turkey is led by Hedo Turkoglu, who may be hated north of the border, who may have fumbled away Turkey’s final possession into a fortunate basket, but who remains a deadly man with the ball in his hands. Just like when he was in Orlando. However, he is more of a shooter for Turkey — he had no assists in the semi-finals.

Turkey brings a couple challenges to the table for the USA, in addition to the crowd. One is their defense — the USA and Turkey have been the two best defensive teams in this tournament.

Turkey runs an aggressive 2/3 match up zone, unlike anything the USA has seen so far. The guards out top extend the pressure up high, back line guys will chase shooters into the corners. While the USA’s zone looks like a zone, the Turkey zone really employs man-to-man principles and uses a lot of pressure.

The other is a long front line, one of the best in the world. They start Omer Asik (coming to the Chicago Bulls), Ersan Ilyasova (Milwaukee Bucks) and Turkoglu (Phoenix Suns). Then they bring in soon-to-be Celtic Semih Erden.

Ilyasova has averaged 15 points and 8.2 rebounds a game through the tournament and is hitting 56 percent of his threes. As a team, Turkey is knocking down 43 percent of its threes, best in the tournament.

But the USA is more talented. They are deeper. They have Kevin Durant. On paper they win. But the game will not be played on paper, it will be played in the most hostile environment any of them has ever seen. If they can overcome that, they will have earned the Gold Medal.

Durant, Team USA level Lithuanian challenge, advance to FIBA Finals


Hey, the good news is that Lithuania was right. Team USA probably isn’t invincible.

Kevin Durant in this tournament, though? Yeah, he’s pretty close to it.

Durant scored 38 points in an 88-74 win over LIthuania, as Team USA advanced to the FIBA World Championship Finals. Durant wound up 14-25 from the floor, despite every attempt made by Lithuania to stop him. They tried man. They tried zone. They tried help. They tried face-guarding. Nothing worked. Durant simply owned them as you would expect from someone who bombed 38 points in FIBA play. We’ve already had several “coming out parties” for Durant. He’s already arrived. But this game will certainly be added to his legacy as a sign of the greatness we all fully predict will come from him.

Meanwhile, Lithuania had almost no opportunity to respond. Their red-hot shooting against Argentina bottomed into nothingness (38% from the field) under a stifling USA defense that will not get the pub it deserves because, well, Durant dropped 38. Lithuania’s star, Linas Kleiza, managed just 4 points on 1-11 shooting, after Andre Iguodala decided to lock down on him and completely shut him off. Lithuania hung without getting blown out of the building, in part thanks to Team USA’s latest bout of poor three point shooting (32% from the arc).

Derrick Rose was benched the entire fourth quarter for USA after an unimpressive showing, forcing shots and looking erratic. There’s talk that his play may have caused Coach K to abandon his faith in Chicago’s dynamic point guard, but that’s probably premature, considering the wide variance in decisions from one game to the next from the Hall of Fame coach.

Today was Lamar Odom’s big game, as the Laker forward finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks and a steal. Odom’s been is usual space cadet self against most of the rest of the world, but his productions is still trickling in, and against a smaller Lithuania team, he flourished, bullied, and busted his way through.

USA will play the winner of the other Semifinal today, when Serbia faces host nation Turkey. If you’re looking for the matchup everyone wants, it’s Turkey vs. USA., as Turkey has been downright dominant in this tournament (in their own right), with the Bucks’ Ersan Ilyasova and the Suns’ Hedo Turkoglu both making impact. Serbia is no slouch, though, after downing the arguable favorite in Spain in a (very) minor shocker.

As Durant said he would on Twitter, Durant wrote “9-11-1” in memory of those who were affected by the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks. In an era where many are exploiting the tragedy for personal self-aggrandizement, once again it’s Durant showing a more humble, more inspiring way of showcasing the better parts of humanity. The kid is human, and isn’t too good to be true. And he’s not invincible. But today he certainly seemed like it.

Just ask Lithuania.


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.