Don’t let the score line fool you. Team USA was tested in Sunday’s game against a game Turkey squad, which took a five-point lead into halftime and threatened to send the Yanks to their first defeat of the tournament. Team USA didn’t panic, though, with a pair of big men coming through with strong performances in the third quarter to help open up a big lead and close out a 98-77 win.
Turkey was much better than Finland
Anyone who watched Team USA’s 114-55 win over Finland Saturday may have gotten a false sense of the level of competition the Americans will face this tournament. Finland was outclassed on both ends of the floor and was held without a basket in the second quarter. It was total domination, with Finnish coach Henrik Dittman telling ESPN the game resembled “a college team playing against professional basketball players.” Things didn’t go nearly as smoothly for the Americans against Turkey.
It was clear from the start that Turkey, Team USA’s opponent in the final of the 2010 World Championship, was far better equipped to hang with it than Finland. New Orleans Pelicans center Omer Asik provided a strong presence on the low block and prevented Team USA’s big men from converting easy baskets, while other capable European club players like Emir Preldzic and Cenk Akyol (both of whom are NBA draft picks) acquitted themselves well.
Turkey’s guards, while not as individually skilled as Team USA’s, moved the ball efficiently, regularly found open shooters and exploited holes in the Americans' coverage. Turkey also played utilized a zone defense that flummoxed Team USA for much of the game. Relaxing off shooters and sagging inside proved an effective strategy to neutralize Team USA’s athletic advantages.
Turkey’s execution stood in contrast to Team USA’s inability to consistently generate offense or contain Turkey’s pick and roll. In the end, big individual efforts from forward Kenneth Faried (more on him below) and center Anthony Davis (19 points, six rebounds, two blocks), among others, created breathing room for the Americans in the third quarter and helped seal the win.
See SI.com's hub for FIBA World Cup coverage
Kenneth Faried is invaluable
Faried was one of the less heralded inclusions on Team USA’s initial training camp roster. Yet through his play in exhibitions and early in pool play, Denver's big man has established himself as one of Team USA’s most vital players. On Sunday, his energy, hustle, close-range finishing and activity on the offensive and defensive glass jolted Team USA to life following a lackluster first half. After Turkey took a five-point lead into the break, Faried scored eight points in the third quarter and made a number key plays on both ends, including an opportunistic swipe of Asik, followed by a dunk, with under a minute remaining in the period to give the Yanks a six-point lead. All told, Faried finished with 22 points on 11-of-14 shooting, eight rebounds, three steals and two blocks.
The 6-foot-8 Faried might seem like an awkward fit for international ball, as he’s at a size disadvantage against larger big men, isn’t an elite defender and struggles to knock down perimeter jump shots. With Kevin Durant and Kevin Love pulling out of the tournament and Paul George unable to participate due to an injury, Team USA had a hole at power forward, and Faried has filled it admirably. It will be interesting to see how coach Mike Krzyzewski deploys Faried in a possible matchup with Spain, which has size that could pose issues for him. If he keeps up this torrid pace, though, Faried's strengths will overshadow his limitations.
Derrick Rose wasn't at his best
The return of Derrick Rose was a running storyline in the lead-up to the World Cup, and NBA observers will continue to focus on the Bulls’ star to see whether he’s close to regaining the form that made him the league’s most valuable player in 2011. Rose has shown flashes of the explosiveness and electric finishing ability for which he earned widespread praise, but his run this summer with Team USA hasn’t progressed without a few hitches. Team USA has delicately managed his playing time, and Rose even missed one exhibition due to reported knee soreness (which he later denied).
After logging 12 points in 23 minutes and making athletic plays on both ends of the floor against Finland on Saturday, Rose managed just two points without recording a field goal in just under 17 minutes against Turkey. He was visibly frustrated at several points throughout the game as well.
In the big picture, one lousy performance in pool play doesn’t tell us much, but it did serve as yet another indication that Rose’s attempt to return to the imposing, two-way demon he was before suffering two major knee injuries isn’t going as smoothly as some hoped. His ongoing acclimation process will progress in fits and starts. At this point, the fact he was able to play back-to-back games without sitting out is the most encouraging takeaway.