The round of 16 of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup got under way with a clash of neighbours as the USA rolled past Mexico to book their place in Tuesday’s quarter finals.
A knockout game situation meant, even as heavy favourites, we could expect the USA to come out hungry and the source of their energy was from the same men who had looked imperious throughout the group stage. A dunk by Kenneth Faried was quickly followed by a block by Anthony Davis. Within 4 minutes Faried had 4 points and 4 boards, the USA had come out in attack mode. Mexico, the FIBA Americas champions (and next year’s hosts) could only watch as the double digit lead was established before the mid-point of the quarter.
That early 13-2 deficit seemed to wake Mexico and they rallied briefly on offence. Underdogs though they were, El Tri’s players were still in the mood to fight for their survival at this competition. The USA however had too many options on offence, with both Splash bros and James Harden ensuring they were well on top after the opening 10 minutes. At the end of the first the USA led 23-13.
Gustavo Ayon, the heart of that FIBA Americas campaign last summer, came out strong to start the second with a 3 of 3 start but there was no sign of the USA letting up. Klay Thompson and Curry were doing the bulk of the damage and a Harden three pushed the Americans further ahead. Unlike that initial assault on Finland a week ago, the USA looked clean in their play. The only trouble was finishing around the rim but otherwise they were in total control. Ayon remained the sole threat for Mexico, finding positions and continuing to remind NBA teams that he would be a smart pick-up.
A faint de-fence chant was heard as USA defended a late Mexican possession, it was the most partisan chant of the first half in an arena almost wholly made up of neutral support. At the half it was 42-27 to the tournament favourites.
A pair of threes from Curry, the second resulting in him landing flat on his back, extended the advantage. Out of sight as they were, the Americans wanted to step up a gear from the pace that saw them cruise to 5-0 in Bilbao. Curry continued to attack, a score inside and then another three. Having used their perimeter offence to limited effected through the group stages, Coach K’s troops were showing what they could do when they unleashed an air raid. With 10 minutes to play, the USA led by 28.
Whereas the final quarter of most of USA’s games, save the comeback against Turkey, was played with a casual tone these final 10 minutes showed an extra edge. The margin narrowed but the introductions of Mason Plumlee and Andre Drummond, both getting their first minutes on court in the final quarter, meant the USA retained the hunger it held throughout the contest.
The focus of the United States in this game can’t be understated. They may have won by wider margins in some of their earlier games but this was their most polished performance to date. With Curry leading the way, they brutalised Mexico from deep and created easy space inside. Defensively they were tremendous for 40 minutes, not letting up the punishment of their neighbours for a moment. There is likely more to come from the USA, we’ll see what they have in store on Tuesday, but they left no doubts of their intentions with this display.
Ayon was the only offensive force for the the losers, racking up a fine 25 points on the day. Mexico exit after achieving pretty much what was expected of them in Spain. Nothing they did here in Barcelona or previously in Gran Canaria was ever going to top last summer’s historic FIBA Americas win. They go home with no shame and confidence ahead of hosting the continental qualifier for Rio.