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.

USA Basketball: Patience is a Virtue

Team USA finished the first round of the 2010 FIBA World Championship undefeated, along with Turkey and Lithuania. Faced with single elimination in the upcoming knockout rounds, the U.S. will have to maintain their perfect record from here on out in order to bring home the gold. Their first obstacle in route to the quarterfinals is Angola, who already pulled a major upset in the tournament and made history by beating Germany for the first time 92-88 in overtime.

There’s no question that the two keys to Team USA’s 5-0 start were their tenacious, aggressive, man-to-man defense and their transition offense, which outnumbered its opponents as they pushed the ball down the court. However USA’s pressure defense and ability to score in the open floor worked against lesser opponents. Against higher level, upper echelon teams, this risky style of play could wind up costing them.

Going forward, exercising patience on both ends of the floor will be critical to USA’s continued success. Lack of ball movement on offense can lead to more possessions for their opponents. And taking gambles on defense can lead to easy scoring for their opponents.

Because better teams will defend much more rigorously and rebound better, USA can’t afford to turn the ball over carelessly by making hurried passes. And USA has to move the opposing defense. If not, the rest of the defense can dig in and get set to help. But if you constantly have your opponent on the move he can’t do that because he has to pay attention to his open man.

We’ve seen Team USA gamble a lot in the passing lane and try to shoot the gap to come up with steals and force turnovers to get easy baskets in transition. But if you face a team that handles the ball well and passes well and doesn’t turn the ball over, then you run the risk of leaving them with wide-open shots. USA will face teams that run methodical offenses and wait until the 4thor 5th pass to pull the trigger. Against these more skilled teams, when gambling on defense doesn’t work it winds up being a basket for the other team. Team USA’s defense will have to be more solid and more secure against the teams they’ll face.

In addition to being more patient on both offense and defense, USA will have to sustain laser focus and intensity from start to finish. A five-minute lapse cost them the World Championship last time around when Greece knocked them out of the tournament in 2006. At this level you can’t afford a lack of effort and focused concentration because that’s the one time you may catch a team playing at the top of their game, and in a one-and-done that can cost you the championship.

Team USA was fortunate to have a few days off to evaluate their play so far, figure out what they can do better and devise a game plan going into the eight-finals. Maybe Coach K and his staff have been holding certain things back that we haven’t seen them use yet. I know through scouting they’ve devised an excellent game plan. Now let’s see if their hard work at practice enables them to execute when it counts most.

USA vs. Angola airs live on Sunday, September 6, 2010 at 11 AM ET on ESPN2; replay at 10 PM ET on ESPN2. Click here to view the rest of the 2010 FIBA World Championship broadcast schedule.

From the Booth: Coach K and Team USA

Mike Krzyzewski has been a prominent member of our coaching staff here at the Michael Jordan Senior Flight School for many years. But this summer he’s unable to join us as he’s already over in Europe with the USA Men’s National Team preparing for the FIBA World Championship in Istanbul, Turkey. After defeating China in a scrimmage and France in an exhibition game last week in New York, Team USA will face Lithuania in Madrid on Saturday – followed by Spain on Sunday and Greece on Wednesday.

Here’s a segment from our Real Training Camp coverage of Team USA’s week-long training session in Las Vegas in which Coach K shares a lesson he learned when coaching Michael Jordan during the 1992 Olympic Games.

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From the Booth: Summer League 2010

On Sunday Spurs general manager R.C. Buford sat down with me and Joel during the Clippers-Spurs game to talk about adding new pieces to the cornerstones of their program in order to rebuild the franchise for the future.

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