The Dominican Republic got its first taste of what to expect from the United States two weeks ago in a blowout exhibition in New York City. Fourteen days and a trip to Spain later, it looked like the Dominicans had learned quite a few lessons at Madison Square Garden.
Just not enough.
Kenneth Faried continued his career-best stretch of basketball, Anthony Davis turned in another dominant all-around game, and the United States again used its size and athleticism advantage en route to a 106-71 victory over the Dominican Republic on Wednesday.
The win for the United States clinches the top spot in Group C. It will face the fourth-ranked team from Group D—very likely Mexico—in the first game of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup's knockout round on Saturday. Coach Mike Krzyzewski will also have the option of divvying up minutes however he sees fit in Thursday's group finale against Ukraine, perhaps giving his starters a breather to keep them fresh for the stretch run.
Then again, after some shaky play from the U.S. in the first half, Coach K might need his stars to get in a better rhythm.
Stephen Curry's struggles from the field continued, and he was joined by fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson and backcourt mate Kyrie Irving with disappointing outings Wednesday. Thompson made three of seven shots but struggled early after being a reliable bench option for the first three games. Irving's string of solid outings also came to a halt with a six-point evening.
Curry again made less than half of his shots en route to scoring eight points, though he was able to contribute in other ways with seven assists and six rebounds. The Warriors star, expected to take a leadership role following Paul George's injury and Kevin Durant's departure, came into Day 5 shooting only 33.3 percent.
Brian Geltzeiler of HoopsCritic.com wondered if we're being too easy on Curry, a point ESPN's Ethan Strauss backed up:
Brian Geltzeiler @hoopscritic
The big focus on Rose and Harden has totally masked the fact that Steph Curry has totally stunk so far in pool play....2014-9-3 20:15:16
Ethan Strauss @SherwoodStrauss
It's weird to see Curry play worse against the Dominican Republic and Finland than he plays against OKC2014-9-3 19:47:27
As a team, the United States shot just 28.6 percent from three-point range despite plenty of open looks allowed by the Dominicans. Spurred in part by the struggles of the U.S. backcourt, the Dominican Republic was able to stick in the game, heading into the halftime break down 56-41.
And then the American big men turned on their jets.
Faried and Davis, the two unquestioned breakout players so far in Spain, opened the second half making five of the United States' first seven shots and helped stretch the lead to 20.
Faried, buzzing around the court like an angered hornet, exited midway through the third quarter with 16 points and six rebounds. It was the latest in what's been a series of stellar performances for the biggest surprise on this loaded U.S. roster. Valued as a high-energy guy with a limited offensive skill set and inconsistent defensive profile, Faried has been all over the place on both sides of the floor as the team's second-leading scorer.
“I’m just playing out there,” Faried told reporters Tuesday, per The Associated Press via the New York Daily News. “I’m just having fun. I’m just playing my game, having fun, enjoying life.”
Brian Mahoney of the AP wondered if Faried has played himself into an Olympic spot:
Brian Mahoney @briancmahoney
Will be interesting in '16 if Love, Durant and the other big names wanna come back and USAB tells them they have to save a spot for Faried.2014-9-3 20:40:01
Davis, meanwhile, was out there doing what fans have come to expect: jaw-dropping feats of excellence only he can provide. He finished with a relatively pedestrian 10 points and seven rebounds on 5-of-10 shooting but was all over the place on the defensive end, blocking five shots, altering more and making it impossible for the Dominican Republic to score near the basket.
The Pelicans forward has been the star of the show for the U.S. in group play, providing a two-way presence the team would struggle without. Then again, it hasn't been all roses for Davis. He did turn the ball over once, which Mason Ginsberg noted was the first of his tournament:
Mason Ginsberg @MasonGinsberg
.@AntDavis23 finally committed his first turnover of group play in the 1st half. Nice run while it lasted; one TO per 75 min isn't too bad.2014-9-3 20:20:49
DeMarcus Cousins also added 13 points, five rebounds and seven steals, as the Dominican Republic could not contend with the United States' size advantage. Every player listed at forward or center made at least half of his shots, while four guards finished below the 50 percent mark.
The Dominican Republic, which dropped to 2-2 in group play, was led by guard Victor Liz's 15 points. Edward Santana and Jack Michael Martinez also scored in double figures off the bench on a day where the Dominicans were without star Francisco Garcia. The Rockets forward sat out to rest his body so he can be fresh for Thursday's game against Turkey.
Shooting 39.4 percent as a team, the Dominican Republic became the fourth straight country to shoot under the 50 percent mark against the U.S. Its 26 turnovers also didn't help in a game where the Dominicans needed to be perfect to have a shot.
Delving into the negative side for the United States, it also had quite a few bouts of sloppy play. DeMar DeRozan accounted for five of the team's 16 turnovers, as there became an emphasis on the spectacular over the fundamental as the game got out of hand. Then again, he can also do this:
NBA on ESPN @ESPNNBA
.@DeMar_DeRozan is cleared for takeoff! #Spain2014 http://t.co/I5hvXRNeOZ2014-9-3 20:45:54
Turnovers, along with poor three-point shooting, could come back to haunt the United States in the knockout round against improved competition.
For now, though, there's not much cause for fuss. The United States is 4-0 with a gaudy point differential and headed to its rightful spot as the top-seeded team coming out of Group C. But with Spain looking nearly as impressive, it's fair to start wondering if it'll be good enough.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter