FINAL -- U.S. 81, Turkey 64They said the U.S. was too young. They said the U.S. was too small. They said the U.S. couldn't get it done with LeBron and Co. sitting at home.
But Team USA proved all the doubters wrong on Sunday.The United States capped an undefeated summer with an 81-64 victory over host country Turkey in the gold medal game at the FIBA World Championships in Istanbul.
For the first time in 16 years, the U.S. is world champions once again. With a team featuring six players under the age of 22, including star Kevin Durant, the U.S. exceeded all expectations this summer and cruised to a 17-point victory Sunday.
Durant, the tournament's undeniable MVP, scored 28 points in the victory against Turkey, including seven three-pointers. His performance all tourney long -- particularly over the last three games -- made fans wonder if Team USA really was playing without the best player in the world after all. Lamar Odom, the team's unsung hero, scored 15 points and pulled down 11 rebounds in the final victory and Rusell Westbrook chipped in 13.
Turkey battled hard the first two periods, keeping the game close and even holding a lead in the first quarter. But the hometown heroes eventually couldn't keep pace with the U.S.'s athleticism, turning the ball over too often on offense and giving up too many easy baskets on defense. Hedo Turkoglu finished with 16 points and seven rebounds and Ersan Ilyasova added a quiet seven points and 11 boards.
With the victory, the U.S. clinches an automatic bid to the 2012 Olympics, a huge sigh of relief for the USA Basketball program. Mike Krzyzewski becomes the first U.S. coach in history to win an Olympic and FIBA gold medal and Lamar Odom is now the only player in history to win an NBA and FIBA title in the same calendar year.
Check back with SI.com for more coverage of the U.S.'s gold medal victory.
Fourth quarter, 42.4 seconds: Now Durant comes out. Hugs all around for the U.S. This tournament has been a huge success for the USA Basketball program. U.S. 81, Turkey 64
Fourth quarter, 42.4 seconds: Coach K cleans the bench, putting in the walk-ons: Kevin Love, Curry and Danny Granger. Durant stays on just in case they need a 30-foot three. U.S. 81, Turkey 64
Fourth quarter, 1:44: Westbrook and Iguodala put an exclamation mark on the win with a nasty alley-oop. Seems like Westbrook has had one of those once a game this tourney. U.S. 81, Turkey 64
Fourth quarter, 2:07: Team USA just playing against the clock in these final minutes.
You have to hand it to Turkey, they played an incredible turnaround, and if it hadn't been for a strong U.S. team they might have won. I'm not sure if they will be a threat in the 2012 Olympics, but they'll be in the mix during qualifying.
The Turkish players are giving it up for their fans. A classy move. U.S. 79, Turkey 64
Fourth quarter, 3:10: Westbrook steps up and hits another three to push it to 20 points. The U.S. is soaking up these final minutes. Months of hard work have paid off. U.S. 79, Turkey 59
Fourth quarter, 4:35: Turkey leaves Odom open again and he makes them pay. Besides Durant, no one has been better for Team USA today than the Lakers swingman. He now has 15.
The gold medal is now within reach for the U.S. Barring an epic collapse, Coach K, Durant and the young Americans will walk away victors at the 2010 FIBA Worlds. U.S. 76, Turkey 57
Fourth quarter, 6:23: The Candy Man (not Michael Olowkandi) continues to own the second half. He blocks a shot on defense and runs the floor and is rewarded with an uncontested layup to give him 11 points, all of which have come in the final two quarters.
Turkoglu hits a deep two, but its too little, too late.
Rose explodes and finishes a fancy layup as he is followed. He misses the layup, but Odom is there to clean up for another two points, putting the game out of reach. They are headed for the exits in Istanbul. U.S. 74, Turkey 52
Fourth quarter, 7:52: Dagger. Lamar Odom drains a three from the corner as the shot clock expires to make it an 18-point game. Hard time imagining Turkey coming back from that. U.S. 68, Turkey 50
Fourth quarter, 8:47 Rose flushes home a two-handed slam (was that the U.S.'s first dunk of the game?) to put the U.S. up 15 again.
Rose then scores another quickie to push the lead to 17. Could this be the end for the FIBA's Cinderella team? U.S. 65, Turkey 48
Third quarter -- U.S. 61, Turkey 48The third quarter felt like the turning point of the FIBA World Championships final, but after a late Turkey run the U.S. holds a manageable 13-point lead.
Team USA outscored Turkey 19-16 in the period, but did most of its scoring in the opening minutes. Kevin Durant followed up a strong first half with eight points in the third and Odom and Iguodala played well before Coach K elected to give the veterans a breather before the fourth quarter.
If Turkey wants to win, they'll need to find a way to stop Durant and to create some space on the perimeter on offense. If this game comes down to a free-throw shooting contest, the U.S. holds an immense advantage.
Third quarter, 1:12: Durant buries an impossible turnaround jumper with a man in his face and a defeated Turkey team trots up the court. He's just been in the zone of late, and when he is, he's unguardable.
Erden keeps Turkey alive with a nice three-point play after coming up empty in his last trip to the line. U.S. 59, Turkey 46
Third quarter, 2:13: Gay with the big jumper to restore the U.S.'s offensive flow. He continues to play the part of Durant's understudy with success.
Turkey's Erden -- a future Boston Celtic -- misses two free throws.
Turkey dares Westbrook to shoot a three and he accepts, knocking down a three and blowing this game up to a 16-point difference U.S. 57, Turkey 41
Third quarter, 4:07: Coach K turning to his subs (Westbrook, Gordon and Gay) to keep the energy up. So far, the U.S. has by far been the superior team in the third quarter.
But Arsalan drills a big three to draw things within 11. Turkey isn't done yet. U.S. 52, Turkey 41
Third quarter, 4:48: Iguodala with the beautiful hustle play to sweep in on an offensive rebound and feed Odom under the hoop for the bucket. The U.S. is starting to find some offense as Turkey is finally starting to collapse on Kevin Durant.
Arsalan knocks down two free throws after the foul to make it a 15-point game. U.S. 52, Turkey 37
Third quarter, 6:40: We are watching Durant turn into a man before our very eyes. Sure, he led the NBA in scoring last season with 30.1 points per game, but this type of performance over the last three games is on another level. This is a world-beater we are watching. A player who is literally a threat to score every time he touches the ball across half court. Turkey might need to break out some gimmicky defenses to stop this guy tonight.
Odom with the big board under the basket and the nice jump hook to extend the U.S.'s lead. Turkey fading fast in the third quarter. U.S. 50, Turkey 32
Third quarter, 7:59 As soon as the U.S. gets the ball back, they feed Durant... and for good reason. The scoring machine hits another triple - his seventh of the game -- putting the U.S. up by 16 early in the third. U.S. 46, Turkey 32
Third quarter, 8:03: Back underway in Istanbul, both teams open the second half with misses.
Team USA forces its fourth 24-second violatation of the game, keeping the defensive intensity up so far in the second half.
Durant hits his sixth three of the game. Connects on a deep bomb well beyond the extension of Turkey's D. U.S. 45, Turkey 32
HALFTIME -- U.S. 42, Turkey 32The crowd is electric, the basketball is physical and the game is intense as the first half ends with the U.S. holding on to a 10-point lead.
Things have been sloppy, but entertaining in the first two quarters. Outside of Kevin Durant (20 points), the U.S. hasn't been able to get much going on offense, but is making up for it with some scrappy defense and forcing Turkey into almost a dozen first-half turnovers.
Hedo Turkoglu leads his team with 11 points and seven rebounds, but the team's other NBA star, Ersan Ilyasova, has just five. Both Turkey and the U.S. are shooting worse than 35 percent from the field, with both sides sides struggling particularly from downtown (9-of-31 combined)
For the second straight quarter, Westbrook ends the period with two from the line to give the U.S. a double-digit advantage at the break.
Coach K has tightended his rotation in the championship game, turning mostly to just Westbrook, Gay and Gordon aoff the bench and Chandler and Curry in very short spurts.
Second quarter, 41 seconds: Gordon misses two threes to make U.S. players besides Durant 1-of-14 from three-point range.
Rudy Gay gets a loose ball and puts it in for two for the U.S., stopping a mini-Turkey run. U.S. 40, Turkey 31
Second quarter, 2:35: Durant -- again! He has 20 of the U.S.'s 36 points. Might be time to ditch the zone and double Durant if you're Turkey.
Billups makes two from the free-throw line to make it a 10-point game. U.S. 38, Turkey 28
Second quarter, 3:08: As the U.S.'s lead grows, Turkey tries to speed up the tempo even faster. It just led to their ninth turnover of the game.
Iguodala misses a three, continuing the struggles for the U.S.'s players not named Kevin Durant.
Turkoglu creates some space and drills a three.
To no one writing this blog's surprise, Durant hits a three instantly on the other end. U.S. 34, Turkey 24
Second quarter, 4:59: Turkey does not care for such statistics. They choose to leave Durant open beyond the arc again. He makes them pay with a triple -- his fourth of the night. He has 15. U.S. 31, Turkey 21
Second quarter, 5:54: No other skirmishes since the Turkoglu-Chandler incident in the first quarter, but both teams are fighting tooth-and-nail for every loose ball. There's no denying how much both teams want to win this one. Tons of contact in the second quarter.
Durant gets to the line after a hard foul by Asik under the hoop. He drills the first but misses the second.
Worth noting: Durant now holds the U.S. record for most points in a single tournament. He set the single-game record yesterday with 38 point against Lithuania. U.S. 28, Turkey 21
Second quarter, 7:35: Another 24-second violation by Turkey -- the U.S.'s swarming defense is really getting it done after letting the home team have its way in the first few minutes.
U.S. going with Billups-Westbrook-Iguodala-Durant-Gay for the time being -- one of its smallest line-ups all tournament. U.S. 27, Turkey 19
Second quarter, 8:57: Back in action and so is Russell Westbrook. The point guard uses his quickness to get to rim and converts on a three-point play.
Turkoglu is sitting on the bench. The telecast tells us he may have injured his right knee. We'll have to see how effective the versatile forward can be when he comes back on the floor.
Ender Arsalan misses two free throws. U.S. 25, Turkey 17
First quarter -- U.S. 22, Turkey 17A scrappy first quarter comes to a close in Istanbul with the U.S. holding a slim lead.
Durant missed a layup with one second remaining, but his Thunder teammate Russell Westbrook was there to collect the rebound and draw the foul. The speedy guard -- and sometimes shaky shooter -- made both free throws to give the U.S. a five-point lead.
KD leads the team with 11 early points.
First quarter, 49.4 seconds: Eric Gordon single-handedly creates a turnover with his perimeter defense. He holds his ground and doesn't give Turkey an inch, eventually leading to a shotclock violation. That's the second 24-second violation Team USA has forced this period. U.S. 20, Turkey 17
First quarter, 1:10: Durant blocks a breakaway layp and it leads to a three in transition by Steph Curry , giving the lead back to the U.S.
Too many turnovers from the hands of Lamar Odom up to this point. The U.S. is deferring to the Lakers big man too often and throwing him impossible passes in the lane which he can't handle. Although the U.S. likes to play inside-out, they'll have to take better care of the ball if they want to work it down low. U.S. 20, Turkey 17
First quarter, 2:23: Team USA struggling a littl ebit early on and I think you can give a little bit of credit to the Istanbul faithful. They are really staying loud and providing Turkey with an energy boost. Think college basketball atmosphere.
Durant hits a three from Oklahoma City to tie the game. U.S. 17, Turkey 17
First quarter, 3:06: Asik gets another two under the rim to give Turkey. a three-point lead. U.S. 14, Turkey 17
First quarter, 3:49: U.S. switches to a 2-3 zone themselves and Turkey makes them pay. Turkoglu hits a three with the defense sagging.
Rose's jumper is a bit off tonight, misses another field goal.
Turkoglu turning it on -- hits a three from the corner to give Turkey its first lead.
Chandler comes down with a rebound and Turkoglu gets in his face, even throwing a bit of a jab at the big man's chest. A known flopper, Turkoglu looks like he's trying to mix things up and get under the U.S.'s skin.
Things are getting fiesty. U.S. 14, Turkey 15
First quarter, 5:44: Turkey playing quick on both ends. Their zone is starting almost at halfcourt and they are shooting on the other end before the U.S. defense can get set.
Billups fouled on a drive to the hoop and knocks down a pair of free throws. U.S. 14, Turkey 9
First quarter, 6:09: Odom has to come out of the game -- looks like he has a bit of a nose bleed. Tyson Chandler comes in, should be interesting to see how he matches up with Asik.
Turkoglu knocks down two free throws to put Turkey within three. U.S. 12, Turkey 9
First quarter, 6:30: Turkey switches to a zone, but leaves Kevin Durant open for some reason. He knocks down a three from the same expot spot he hit his first.
Both offenses looking good so far. We could have a high-scoring final. U.S. 12, Turkey 7
First quarter, 7:32: Durant on fire once again. Takes his man off the dribble and steps back to rattle in a three. Onan scores on a floater on the other end.
Iguodala picks up a loose ball and lays it in to give the U.S. a four-point lead. U.S. 9, Turkey 5
First quarter, 8:33: Onan scores Turkey's first points of the game on a pretty layup. Kevin Durant picks up where he left off last game and hits a quick jumper. Remember, Durant has scored 71 points combined over his last two games. U.S. 4, Turkey 2
First quarter, 9:20: Odom and Asik jump it up and Turkey wins the tip.
Asik misses the first attempt of the game under the hoop and the U.S. counters with a quick basket by Rose for the first points of the game. U.S. 2, Turkey 0
First quarter, 10:00: Just about to get under way in Istanbul. The U.S. is going with the same starting line-up it has utilized all tournament (Odom-Durant-Igoudala-Billups-Rose). Turkey trots out a starting five of Hedo Turkoglu, Ersan Ilyasova, Omer Asik, Omer Onan and Kerem Tunceri.
The Turkey crowd is loud (and red), but Team USA should have plenty of motivation as well. The U.S. has not won a FIBA title since 1994.
It all comes down to this.
Team USA goes for the gold this afternoon (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) when they take on host country Turkey in the much-anticipated final of the 2010 FIBA World Championships.
Much is at stake today in addition to a gold medal. A young U.S. team, led by Kevin Durant, is trying to prove itself to doubters who said the team couldn't get it done without LeBron and Co. and is also trying to earn an automatic bid to the 2012 Olympics in Vancouver. Meanwhile, Turkey is hoping to finish off a story-tale run in front of its home fans and show the world that the '12 Giant Men' are among the international basketball elite.
The U.S. made it to the final after dusting off Lithuania in the semifinals, 89-74. Turkey had a much more thrilling path to glory, edging Serbia 83-82 with a last-second layup.
The biggest challenge (literally) facing the U.S. today is Turkey's size, led by the team's pair of 6-foot-10 NBA players. The Phoenix Suns' Hedo Turkoglu and the Milwaukee Bucks' Ersan Ilyasova will both be handfuls for the U.S.'s undersized bigs and are as good as any players Team USA has faced all tournament.
Don't expect any changes from Coach K at the altar. Lamar Odom, Durant, Andre Iguodala, Chauncey Billups and Derrick Rose will start. Tyson Chandler and others will be called in for defensive reinforcements if Turkey goes on a run early.