This was never a perfect edition of the U.S. Senior National Team.
The superstars of the NBA opted to skip the trip to Spain and left the task of defending their World Championship to a group of young, unproven stars and a still-recovering Derrick Rose. There was a lot of 3-point shooting, not a lot of defense, not a lot of size and not a lot of experience.
The formula to defeat Team USA was laid bare by Turkey, which took a five-point lead at halftime in Sunday’s Group C game at the FIBA World Cup. Teams have to find a way to slow the pace down, use the pick and roll to get into the interior and, most importantly, make 3-point shots to keep the U.S. from crashing into the paint. Defensively, you have to bait the U.S. into quick shots and pray they miss.
This is not the best team the U.S. has ever sent to the World Championships. But this is still by far the most talented team and the favorite to win the whole thing.
And they proved that in a second half where Anthony Davis began asserting himself, the shots started falling and Turkey’s turnovers and missed shots added up to a team that could play with the U.S. for 20-25 minutes but not 40. There are few teams that can go the full 40 against Team U.S.A.
The final result: U.S.A 98, Turkey 77.
That is the result you would have expected at the end of the game anyway. The way it got there added the intrigue for the Americans. Every weakness the team probably feared was exploited in this game, the first real test for this version of the national team.
Team U.S.A. withstood that challenge though.
They did so by attacking the inside a lot more. Anthony Davis was scoreless in the first half, but took over in the second, operating out of the high post and attacking the basket. He and Kenneth Faried did a good job being active around the basket. Faried was especially energetic and gave the U.S. the boost it needed eventually to win.
Eventually Team U.S.A. converted turnovers into baskets. Eventually the team started making shots. Eventually things turned their way. They won and that is the result they wanted.
They won and learned a lesson about itself.
Quick shots will not work against any of the solid teams in this tournament. The U.S.A. squad has to get defenses moving and rotating and they have to get the ball moving. Too often it would be a one-pass-and-shoot mentality with this team. There was too much isolation and not enough drives to the paint and kick outs.
This is how the U.S. is going to beat teams. The defense should be able to force enough turnovers to create easy opportunities and give the U.S. the ability to control pace.
Turkey took it to the U.S. The team controlled the pace and kept things in the half court. The U.S. could not figure out how to crack the zone defense or show the patience to do so either. It is going to take that patience to eventually win the gold medal.
That is still a long way off. There are four more group games to get through. Tuesday’s New Zealand game will provide a test similar to the one Turkey gave. But the real challenges will not come until the knockout stage.
Those teams will be eyeing this game very carefully when that time comes.