And now, the conclusion of the 2010 FIBA World Championship. In hindsight, it looks like a meeting made inevitable by destiny: Hosts Turkey riding their home advantage and deploying its strongest roster since 2001 (if not ever) to meet the world’s basketball public enemy no. 1, Team USA.
Since no one needs reasons to watch this game, BallinEurope will simply enumerate a few things BiE’ll be watching for in tonight’s sure-to-be-stirring FIBA championship – and offers a fearless prediction or two, naturally.
• Turkey’s dependence on Hedo Turkoglu. Yes, he’s the undisputed team leader; sure, you can call him The Greatest Turkish Basketball Player of All-Time if you like, but BiE still doesn’t like the way Team Turkey can become the pre-Pau Lakers out there in crunch time, i.e. everyone stands by while Hedo Does Work.
Memo to Turkey: The secret’s out. As the tense Turks looked to their leader again and again in the fourth, Turkoglu was pressed into fighting through tough interior defenses and drawing double-teams habitually on the outside. Hedo saved a little face by snagging two key boards in the quarter, but his shooting line reads 1-for-5 overall in the last stanza plus an ofer on his only trip to the free-throw line.
Check out the fateful inbounds pass here (save a little time and start the clip at about 0:40). With absolutely no mystery as to how this play will unfold, Turkoglu draws the attention of four Team Serbia defenders before dishing it to the still Kerem Tunceri by the sideline.
BiE’s said it before and will say it one more time: Hedo needs to facilitate ball movement more and alpha-dog it less. Going into the knockout stage, Turkoglu was fourth on the team in scoring, shooting at over a 42% clip while adding 4.0 assists per game. After a combined 8-of-19 in the last two games, his shooting percentage for the tourney is down to 38.2% – and he couldn’t manage a single assist last night under the smothering Serbian defense. Surely someone else will need to step up for Turkey, because Team USA fears Turkoglu not.
• Westbrook playing the point. Certain Team USA followers (cough, cough, Bulls fans, hack, cough) were perhaps dismayed by Derrick Rose’s severe lack of playing time in the second half, while others (cough Oklahoma City cough cough *cough* ahem) were digging on Russell Westbrook’s all-around play at the no. 1 spot.
As Chris Sheridan, who’s been doing a bang-up job covering the tournament for ESPN, points out, Rose has become more inconsistent throughout the FIBA Worlds and has a serious Achilles heel in confronting big bodies in the paint. Who’d’ve thought a backcourt combination of Westbrook and Chauncey Billups’d work? And one more time: How scary are the Oklahoma City Thunder looking for, say, 2011-12 and beyond?
• Ilyasova drawing Durant. Poor Ersan Ilyasova; one night after getting shut down and frustrated by Serbia to turn in a line of six points, four rebounds and five personal fouls, he’ll be dealing with a white-hot Kevin Durant in most defensive coverages. The Milwaukee Buck may be in for a preseason of flashback-filled nightmares after this one…
• Lamar Odom dealing with his (literally) biggest challenge yet. Odom may have turned in his best performance in the tournament yet last night, totally establishing dominance underneath the basket early – but that was against the relatively small Lithuania. In the Russia game, Odom put on an … interesting performance while going to war against Andrey Vorontsevich. Awesome on the boards with five offensive and seven defensive boards, Odom on the other hand had difficulty shooting even inside the paint in going 2-for-7.
Odom vs. Asik might be a titanic struggle, but Omer and the boys could yet prove to finally be the team that exploits the well-publicized pre-tournament rhetoric that Team USA is too small.
• The daggers being thrown in ESPN.com’s Daily Dime Live chat. The Turkey-USA match marks the last chance for The Continent to represent in America’s most fun ‘n’ outrageous in-game basketball chatroom … until the NBA regular season. It all starts at 5.30pm CET (11.30am EST). Just don’t forget the bacon.
Official BallinEurope Fearless Prediction™: Trust me, BiE has been trying to find a way to justify picking Turkey in this game since the final buzzer in the Serbia game last night. But, man … Kevin Durant – that’s all that needs to be said, innit? Turkey keeps it close, but the Stars and Stripes pull away in the fourth to win by 10 behind MVP Durant’s 25 points.