USA Basketball: Gold Rush in Istanbul

Two teams made history in yesterday’s 2010 FIBA World Championship Semifinals. Kevin Durant scored 38 points in USA’s 89-74 victory over Lithuania in Istanbul, setting a new US FIBA World Championship record for point scored.

It was an impressive win for Team USA and a much better showing than their previous friendly with Lithuania prior to the tournament. The U.S. kept turnovers down and through pressure defense managed to create opportunities to get out in front and score. In addition to Durant’s huge performance, Lamar Odom finished with a double-double while Eric Gordan and Westbrook really contributed off the bench.

Now Team USA is one win away from World Championship gold. But they must contend with undefeated Turkey, a team bolstered by the hopes, prayers and thunderous support of a nation looking to become the first host country to take the title in forty years.

Turkey trailed Serbia for most of yesterday’s semifinal. But the momentum shifted when Kerem Tuneceri drilled a 3-pointer late in fourth quarter to give Turkey the lead for the first time in the half. And Tuneceri would be the hero of the game.

With just seconds remaining on the clock, Tuneceri penetrated and sank a layup to steal the game 83-82. The announcer bellowed, “Turkey is going to the gold medal game and the roof might be coming off the Olympic Dome.”

As thrilling as it was, atmosphere at today’s final between USA and Turkey will be off the charts. Pandemonium will erupt hours before the game and will continue throughout. Turkish fans will not stop cheering. They will not stop chanting. They will not stop whistling. They will not stop waving their flags. This is the first time Turkey has reached the world basketball finals. And they have done so in their own country knowing they will have a chance to topple arguably the best team in the world. It will be a wild spectacle.

Not only will team USA will have to contend with the emotion of a crowd that will be after them the whole time. Turkey also has experienced NBA players including Hedo Turkoglu, Ersan İlyasova, Ömer Asik and Semih Erden. This group of guys is not going to be in awe of Team USA or afraid of competing with NBA players because they play against them all the time.

Turkey may not be as athletic as Team USA, but they move the ball well and execute on offense. USA will have to rely on tenacious defense to disrupt Turkey’s offense. In yesterday’s USA-Serbia semi, the United States took away the 3-point line early on and piled on the pressure, forcing turnovers. The defensive pressure that the U.S. put on Lithuania did not allow them to have all the looks from the 3-point line that they got against Argentina.

And once again Team USA will rely on Kevin Durant to lead the charge and put up big numbers. He was unstoppable against Lithuania. A repeat performance could very well enable the U.S. to bring home their first FIBA World Championship Naismith Trophy since 1994.

USA vs. Turkey airs live on Sunday, September 12, 2010 at 2:30 PM ET on ESPN; replay at 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2.

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