Saturday August 30th, 2014

The first game of Team USA's FIBA World Cup slate was decided in the second quarter, when Finland was denied on every one of its 17 field goal attempts. That frame alone tilted 29-2 in favor of the Americans, paving the way for an eventual 114-55 victory that was exactly as lopsided as it sounds. Klay Thompson led Team USA in scoring with 18 points while Anthony Davis added 17 of his own. Derrick Rose was noticeably more spry than in the exhibition finale, particularly as he broke down opponents with his crossover and flashed downcourt with the ball in mere seconds. DeMarcus Cousins had a near double-double (nine points, 10 rebounds) in limited minutes, and every one of Team USA's 12 players scored four points or more in the blowout.

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Next. No opponent in Group C should give Team USA much trouble (Finland least of all). With that, a blowout of this ridiculous margin was more or less expected. Balanced playing time -- all 12 players logged at least 10 minutes of action -- through a deep roster helped maintain a high energy level throughout and build on its lead with run after run.

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Only so much can be gleaned from a game with so much downhill basketball. Still, it's promising all the same to see the Americans, while in command throughout, approach every possession with seriousness. The starters, after some initial hiccups, pushed to a sudden double-digit lead. The reserves helped build that massive lead in every frame, never much letting up. Even those at the end of Team USA's bench hit the ground running upon coming into the game, and stretched the margin through honest effort on both ends of the floor. This was 40 minutes of all business against an opponent that didn't necessarily deserve Team USA's best effort -- a victory under the circumstances.

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Team USA flexed its defensive muscle. Although Team USA's defensive execution was uneven in exhibition play, Finland had trouble even getting to the paint on Saturday. Much of that was technical; most every pick-and-roll was handled and funneled to the sideline perfectly, away from the open middle and into awaiting help. The length and athleticism of the Americans proved oppressive. Many of Finland's 31 -- thirty-one! -- turnovers came out of that pressure, as ball handlers were cramped and smothered into mistake after mistake.

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The low level of competition made this defensive exercise far easier than it could have been (and later will be) for Team USA. There is a boulder-sized grain of salt to be taken in the lockdown of a team led by Erik Murphy and Petteri Koponen, but Team USA has aced its only actual test thus far.

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Thompson fared well as the floor spacer Team USA needs. Although there was never much standing between the Americans and a high-percentage shot attempt, there will be games in this tournament where quality looks are a bit more sparse. It's in those cases that Thompson -- an elite catch-and-shoot option who moves well without the ball -- could be among Team USA's most important players. Davis appears to be the best player on this team and others (including James Harden, Stephen Curry and Rose) will juggle creative responsibility, but Thompson is uniquely suited to balance the floor. His stroke looked great in the first game of the tournament. Thompson hit four of his seven long-range attempts for the day for a promising transition to the shorter FIBA three-point line. If that accuracy holds against better opposing defenses, Thompson will open up needed driving and passing lanes for Team USA's other core players.


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