It was the World Cup newcomers vs the World and Olympic champions. Team USA entered a cauldron in Bilbao and wrecked all before them. Emmet Ryan reports on a dominant display by the tournament favourites but one that shows they is still room for improvement.
This arena was just nuts. A full 40 minutes before tip off there were more fans here than at either game in the early session. When the Finnish team came out for warm-ups 10 minutes later the place went nuts and that was with half of the 8,000 Susijengi faithful yet to make it through the doors. Even the highlights video got a hot reaction, distracting somewhat from the entrance of the USA who hit the floor as it started.
Unfortunately the game was an absolute rout almost from the off as the United States took only a few minutes to settle in before ripping the Finns apart. Gerald Lee made history by scoring Finland’s first ever World Cup points and the arena erupted. Lee however picked up two offensive fouls early. Kenneth Faried made his presence felt inside with a pair of buckets as the US looked to establish their interior superiority. Enthusiastic as the Finns and their supporters were, there’s only so much that can be done when faced with this sort of gulf. The early assault on the interior saw the USA move into an early 9 point lead. Rudy Gay and Klay Thompson were keeping the Finns at arms length while Derrick Rose was happy to run into contact. There were explosive moves but the USA still felt like a team warming up near the end of the first frame. Any sense of a contest was well and truly put to bed after the opening 10 minutes. The USA led 31-16 at the end of the first. Not that any of this bothered the crowd. They knew this was going to be the rough night and treated every score like a cause for celebration. Erik Murphy’s lay-up at the end of Q1 was treated like it had put the Finns in front.
Already dominant on offence, the USA stepped up to another level on D in the second quarter. The Finns maanged only 3 points in the second frame, all from the line with zero field goals. An 0/17 quarter will demoralise any team, irrespective of the class of opponent. Behold the shot chart of woe.
The assault was so great that one had to stretch to find faults in the USA’s play. James Harden was occasionally too aggressive with his handle but more often than not he had his way with the Finns, finishing the half with 9 points, 4 steals, and 2 assists. That’s about it, the one true negative and that was from a player who was well in charge. Midway through the quarter the USA led by 29 and Sube la Copa was played for the 10th time today. I’m keeping count of how many times it’s played. Seems to be worth doing. Anyway back to the action and on with the slaughter. Rose stretched the lead to 37 with a big dunk as the USA kept piling on the points.
At this stage, and it’s likely to be a recurring theme for USA games, the focus on what the USA was doing was more about tone than execution. Staying sharp or, as it really looked, getting sharp is the key part of the group stage. USA kept their foot on the throat of Finland through to half-time, with Rose and DeMarcus Cousins particularly aggressive on defence. At the half the USA led 60-18.
Tuuka Kotti ended the barren stretch from the field early in the third and that saw a mini-rally by the Finns, matching the USA point for point through the mid-way point of the quarter. Coach K did what Coach K does, he subbed out all five players on the floor. Leading by 40+ isn’t enough when you’re looking at the tournament holistically. Every error has to be treated like a cause to be taken out to keep players sharp. It’s always about the next game. A handful of Finnish fans started to make their way home but the vast majority remained to see a purple patch for the Wolfpack capped off by a Shawn Huff three. Krzyzewski’s adjustments had the desired effect as the lead stretched to 50 at the end of the third, 89-39.
This won’t be the last blow-out involving the USA in this tournament and the making of this side won’t come in lopsided contests. Right now we’re seeing what Faried, Cousins, and Davis can do when working with top tier talent. The next step is to see them face a true challenger, where simply having that talent around them isn’t enough and they are asked to deliver. The path to Madrid doesn’t offer many chances of that variety but there is time for a challenger in this half to emerge.
The fourth saw a significant amount of Mason Plumlee court time as the USA well and truly took their foot off the pedal. Even the crowd was getting softer, everybody just wanted to go home. Finland managed to keep active on offence and, y’know, make some field goals. While a battering was always on the cards, the fear from the day the draw was made was what impact this kind of beating would have on Finland mentally. This is a weak group and if they keep their heads together they could yet reach the knockout stages. Tomorrow they face Ukraine, a beatable team but one they will need to be at their best for. The late rally, albeit in garbage time could go a long way to getting them focused for that challenge.
The USA’s next opponent is Turkey. Eat, sleep, conquer, repeat.