It wasn’t overwhelming. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t even injury-free.
But Team USA avoided the worst possible embarrassment – a loss – with a 93-92 overtime win over Turkey on Tuesday. The Americans will advance to the second round of the 32-team FIBA World Cup.
Khris Middleton made the game-winning free throws with 2.1 seconds left, extending the United States’ 55-tournament-game winning streak with NBA players.
The game was tense late, Turkey pressing for the upset and Team USA trying to avoid a historic defeat. Turkey missed all four of its free throws in the final 10 seconds. After the fourth miss, Jayson Tatum grabbed the defensive rebound and pushed ahead. As he pressured the rim, Tatum delivered a clean pass to Middleton to set-up the winning free throws.
Unfortunately, Tatum also hurt himself on the play. Brian Windhorst of ESPN:
The United States already looked vulnerable, especially after an exhibition loss to Australia. This U.S. roster doesn’t hold up to traditional standards. Turkey wasn’t even among the top threats! The Americans could lose to any reasonable competitor.
That probably won’t be Japan on Thursday, when Team USA closes Group E play. The United States and the Turkey-Czech Republic winner will advance.
Against Turkey, the U.S. shot just 35% on 2-pointers. The Americans’ highest-volume shooters – Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell and Tatum – combined to shoot 11-for-37 overall.
Team USA overcame that inefficiency with plenty of effort. The United State grabbed 17 offensive rebounds to 34 Turkey defensive rebounds. Tatum (11 points, 11 rebounds, two steals and two blocks) was particularly active.
However, Tatum made just 2-of-3 free throws with 0.1 seconds left in the fourth quarter, sending the game to overtime rather than giving the U.S. a regulation win.
It appeared Turkey would take advantage of the extra time. Turkey had been gaining momentum while overcoming a 15-point lead and even led by five with three minutes left. Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova (26 points and 14 rebounds) was excellent. Turkey just played with more chemistry, shooting and passing more decisively and getting better looks as a result.
But those four missed free late are haunting. And the U.S. did just enough to take advantage.