FIBA World Cup Group Play Turning into Highlight Show for Team USA
After just four games of preliminary-round play, Team USA clinched a spot in the round of 16 and won its Group C with a 106-71 victory over the Dominican Republic on Wednesday.
Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried led the way for the United States with 16 points, but the club's fourth consecutive win was in large part due to another ensemble effort. For the second straight contest, every member of the roster scored—underscoring the depth and selflessness characterizing head coach Mike Krzyzewski's squad.
As guard James Harden told reporters after the team's victory over New Zealand, "We've got 12 guys that can score the basketball at any given moment, and tonight and every other night the focus is defense, and whoever scores the basketball, it's USA points."
And many of those USA points have been scored in style.
The United States' active defense has translated into plenty of fast-break offense. The results have been something to behold.
Here are just a few of the highlights we've witnessed as Team USA prepares for its final game of group play against Ukraine.
7. New Zealand's "Haka Dance" Confounds Team USA
You might think it's a stretch to kick things off with a dance routine, much less a performance from one of Team USA's opponents—in this case, New Zealand.
But the real story here is the priceless reactions from Derrick Rose and James Harden, briefly caught on video before the two teams kicked things off for the third game of group play. The United States went on to win the game by a 98-71 margin, but New Zealand definitely deserves some style points.
Meanwhile, Rose and Harden may still be trying to figure this one out.
6. Anthony Davis Snags a One-Handed Oop
Who said Klay Thompson was just a one-dimensional three-point shooter?
He contributed this heads-up lob as the United States began pulling away against Turkey in the fourth quarter of a game in which it trailed by five points at halftime. Anthony Davis did the rest.
Davis scored all 19 of his points in the second half of the game, helping spearhead a comeback victory in what's remained Team USA's closest call so far.
5. Kyrie Irving Gets the Benefit of the Doubt
Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.
Kyrie Irving looked to lose control of the ball after breaking down his defender with a crafty behind-the-back dribble. But fret not—he made this botched drive look good.
Minus the flailing upon landing.
Now that Irving's Cleveland Cavaliers boast a lineup including four-time MVP LeBron James and star power forward Kevin Love, the 22-year-old point guard will have plenty of help during the NBA season. If he keeps making shots like this, though, he might not need it.
4. Kenneth Faried Uses the Glass in a Big Way
You might generally associate Kenneth Faried with rim-rocking dunks, and you should.
But the 6'8" power forward looked more like a point guard with this reverse layup against Turkey. After seven-footer Omer Asik forces him to alter his shot on approach, Faried ducks under and throws up a prayer with all kinds of English on it.
Turkey managed to stifle the United States' half-court offense through much of the game's first half, but it had no answer for fast-break brilliance like this.
3. DeMar DeRozan Splits Defense for Throwdown
Toronto Raptors swingman DeMar DeRozan is only averaging 12.2 minutes through Team USA's first four games, but he's making at least some of those minutes count.
The Dominican Republic adopted a defensive strategy known as "standing and watching." And it did so in awe. Once DeRozan found a lane, the rest was history. He reached way back and threw down an absolute hammer—that somehow managed to barely move the rim.
The 25-year-old may be playing a complementary role for the United States this time around, but he certainly left his mark with this one.
2. Anthony Davis Goes Up High for the Alley-Oop
New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis leads Team USA with 16.8 points per contest after four games.
He's also added plenty of eye-popping plays, including this high-flying alley-oop courtesy of point guard Kyrie Irving's last-second lob. Davis had to sky for this one, getting well above the rim and leaving a defender hopelessly grounded by gravity in the process.
Davis has added some muscle this summer, but the extra weight clearly hasn't limited his ability to elevate.
1. Faried with the Oop from Half Court
Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry has built his reputation on unrivaled perimeter shooting, but he's by no means a one-trick pony.
The 26-year-old's bag of tricks is overflowing.
This one involved a half-court heave to power forward Kenneth Faried, who—through four games—is Team USA's second-leading scorer with 14.8 points per contest. More than a few of those points have involved other-worldly athleticism.
His strong play was on full display Wednesday against the Dominican Republic.
"Faried continued his wholly unforeseen rise to prominence with a team-high 16 points and six rebounds in 17 minutes," writes ESPN.com's Marc Stein. "The surprise is that Faried actually missed three of his 11 shots, taking his tournament-leading marksmanship from the field below 80 percent. He's now at 78.4 percent from the floor, having converted 29 of 37 shots in four games."
Not a bad tournament so far for Faried.
But it never hurts to have floor generals like Curry setting the table.