There are times when a team needs to send a message. The United States, its camp fraught with injuries, departures of star players and a looming giant in host country Spain, came into Saturday's opening game of the 2014 FIBA World Cup facing one of those occasions.
On behalf of Finland and the 22 other countries at the World Cup: message sent.
In a muscle-flexing performance for the ages, the United States earned a dominant 114-55 win over Finland in its Group C matchup on Saturday. Klay Thompson scored 18, Anthony Davis added 17 and DeMarcus Cousins narrowly missed a double-double as the U.S. roared to an early lead and never allowed the overwhelmed Finnish side within single digits after the first quarter.
The result was the second-widest margin of victory in Team USA World Championship history, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Using its athletic advantage to its full potential, the United States forced 31 turnovers and allowed its opponent to shoot just 27.7 percent. The game was highlighted by an unbelievable second quarter, which saw Finland outscored, 29-2, while failing to make a single field goal. Matt Moore of CBS Sports correctly pointed out the game was well out of reach at halftime:
Defensively, the U.S. spent its evening swarming to the ball and aggressively trapping whenever it sensed an opportunity. James Harden had four steals, while DeMar DeRozan and Mason Plumlee had three apiece. Finland finished the game with 13 more turnovers than made field goals and shot a miserable 4-of-21 from three-point range.
Petteri Koponen, Shawn Huff and Erik Murphy were the only Finnish players to score in double figures. The result was so academic that Zach Harper of CBS Sports came up with a proposal to make the game more interesting:
In all, four U.S. players scored in double figures, and every player scored at least four points. Stephen Curry and DeRozan, who had matching 1-of-6 nights, were the only players who had less-than-stellar performances. Curry still managed five assists, while DeRozan tallied four and was a menace on the defensive end.
Davis and Thompson, the former dominating in the first half and the latter in the second, had nights that should encourage fans of their respective franchises. Davis, who has emerged as the star of this team at age 21, was unstoppable attacking the rim on pick-and-rolls. He went 6-of-8 from the field and reached the line five times as Finland struggled to find an answer.
Kentucky coach John Calipari recently told USA Today's Sam Amick:
Right now, you look at (Davis) and say, "Man, in five years, he could be the best player in the NBA." And this USA Basketball stuff pushes that date sooner. Again, here's what it does for him: how to work, new things to add to his game, and confidence like, "These are the best in the world, so I'm all right."
CBS Sports' Eye on Basketball feed appropriately summed up his performance:
Thompson got to his game-high 18 points by taking advantage of FIBA's shorter three-point arc. He was responsible for four of Team USA's six threes and went 7-of-10 from the field overall. The Warriors guard, who spent much of his summer being tossed around as part of possible Kevin Love trade scenarios, has seemed unaffected during his time with the national team.
As Hardwood Paroxysm's Noam Schiller points out, though, maybe the rumors did have much different, unintended effect:
Jokes aside, there is not much in terms of takeaways from Saturday. The United States is far and away the best basketball country in the world, to the point it can send its C-team to Spain and still be considered the favorite.
Finland is currently ranked 39th. Without the unrelentingly dominant second quarter, the game would have been another ho-hum blowout—akin to the team's exhibition contests before arriving in Spain.
While undoubtedly an impressive performance, Team USA is not without issues. The Americans made only six of their 18 three-point attempts, an issue that further accentuates the strange choice to cut Damian Lillard, Chandler Parsons and Kyle Korver.
Not being able to space the floor can work against the likes of Finland, which lacks any international basketball resume. Saturday was the country's first FIBA World Cup appearance, and Finland has not made the Olympics since 1964. Its roster features only one NBA player (Erik Murphy) and has three players who are not even on club teams.
The U.S. was bound to look dominant. As it will in a Group C that does not feature much in terms of international firepower.
The roster shortcomings will become more apparent as the tournament progresses, especially against powerhouses such as Argentina and Spain. Mike Krzyzewski knows his team can overwhelm lesser teams athletically, but Curry can't go 0-of-5 from three-point range against better competition.
Spain and Argentina boast groups of NBA players who have more than a decade of experience playing together. The United States has a bunch of talented individuals who have played together a handful of times.
Chemistry and floor spacing could come back to haunt Team USA in the later rounds. For now, though, Coach K and Co. can rest easy knowing they've announced their arrival in the loudest possible fashion.
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