Every concern about USA Basketball came home to haunt them as Dennis Schroeder, Franz Wagner, and, especially, Daniel Theis, delivered to put Germany in the final of the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup
A shock before we even started
I had picked Germany to win this game based on the USA being at full strength. In the minutes before the game started, we found out that Brandon Ingram was unavailable. He was diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection. That meant this would be the first time in the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup that Steve Kerr was dealing with an under-strength roster.
It likely would have had no impact on the start of the game. Germany came out hungry and aggressive. Johannes Voigtmann grabbed an early offensive board that was recycled multiple times before an Andreas Obst three. The Americans had lots of trouble doing anything in the paint while Germany continued to drive had. The USA was trying to at least keep its perimeter D up but outside screens were working well for Germany. That meant opportunities were still coming when they wanted them.
An amazing pace
Normally it’s the speed of Team USA that gets discussed. They have, for all their faults in this tournament, been very impressive in transition. That was not the case in the first quarter here as Germany ran and ran at the Americans. A Dennis Schroeder three briefly gave them the first double digit lead of the game. Scores by Jalen Brunson and Anthony Edwards calmed things down but, again, only briefly.
The obvious question was whether Germany could maintain this. Unlike any other opponent the USA had faced up to this point of the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup, the Germans had real depth. When you second unit includes a force of energy like Moritz Wagner, it’s not that hard to keep things wild.
The USA opted to go heavy with their back-ups and, in truth, the smart eyes were on Tyrese Haliburton. The locals may adore Austin Reaves (entirely because he plays for the LA Lakers) but Haliburton has looked the most suited to FIBA basketball of an ill-fitting USA team.
Weathering the storm
The German second unit faltered slightly as the first frame wore down. It showed on the scoreboard as the Americans cut it back to one possession. Gordie Herbert only changed things slightly, putting Franz Wagner back on the floor with Mo. He had a recipe and didn’t want to tinker too much.
With Johannes Thiemann at the 5 however, the USA were under far less pressure on the inside. Thiemann’s far more suited to the 4 and lacks the physicality needed to hurt Steve Kerr’s charges. Reaves tied things up for the first time in a long time from deep before the
Gordie Herbert holds his nerve
The Germany coach is either an amazing poker player or an awful one. He stuck with keeping most of his starters on the bench for a good chunk of the bridge from the last first through the early second quarter. Franz Wagner the lone starter on the floor, rewarded him from deep, but this was still a line-up the USA was more comfortable with.
Schroeder returned after a lengthy 5 minute break, as did Theis. Still, Herbert showed his patience. No Obst, no Voigtmann. Not yet. If his Germany team was going to beat the USA, it would have to weather a storm. Right at this moment, they were living with the Americans.
Breaking the glass
I did not have Austin Reaves bodying Daniel Theis on my bingo card. Eventually the real break and full change was needed and Herbert made the call. The USA led by 4 at the mid-point of the second but they seemed to have a sniff of something more.After a 30-16 USA run, Germany needed to shake things up. Dennis Schroeder from deep and that was just what the doctor ordered. That was washed down with Theis grabbing another offensive board and score. The paint issues for the USA have been evident throughout this tournament. Their win over Italy glossed over that somewhat but when they face real FIBA bigs, they struggle. Germany had two of them.
A different Dennis Schroeder
We knew two things about the enigmatic Schroeder before this game. It would be near impossible for him to shoot as poorly as he did against Latvia and he’d be hungry to bounce back. What wasn’t expected was such patience from him early.
Schroeder was far happier to facilitate than shoot in the first half. That sort of made Theis the focal point of the offence but it was more complex. Theis and Johannes Voigtmann were somewhat alternating in that route in order to create variery form Obst, Schroeder, and Franz Wagner.
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The perimeter issue
Herbert looked to have played a smart hand in the first half but there was one crucial concern. The USA shot 53 per cent from three. That simply couldn’t be allowed to continue if Germany were to win this. They needed to force the Americans inside and get stops. When you’ve got bigs like Voigtmann and Theis, you want them in the thick of things defensively.
Germany had entered the second half at a normally exceptional 50 per cent. This was not a normal game. This was the 2023 FIBA World Cup semi final against an opponent they had never beaten. It was an area where it was essential they outperformed the USA.
Theis, Theis, Baby
Sometimes you just want your big beefy boy to do big beefy things. Daniel Theis had been a multi-faceted threat in the first half. Not so much at the start of the third as he decided to just beat everything in sight in the paint on both ends.
With Paolo Banchero assigned to him, Theis could push around the Orlando Magic man and create lanes for those around him. Voigtmann proved an able assistant, in his ability to distract as much as his physicality.
Men step up
By the middle of the third, both Voigtmann and Obst had career highs for assists at any FIBA Basketball World Cup. Theis got a bit busted up on a failed defensive effort against Josh Hart. Even Isaac Bonga was out there just banging and doing the dirty work before nailing a vital three. Germany may have needed top guys to be competitive but its depth would be vital for victory. Thiemann, revitalised upon his reintroduction, stole an offensive board from nowhere and score.
The man for the USA was unquestionably Anthony Edwards. Ant was scoring at a pace to match the best of the Germans but it was more than that. He was the one driving and getting success in the paint. That was what was keeping the USA’s perimeter threat relevant and with space.
This is the moment
Germany held a 94-84 lead going into the fourth quarter. Gordie Herbert had held his nerve earlier. Now it was about his players holding theirs. There was nothing to fear. The USA may be the great scary monster of basketball but they had already bled in this tournament. Lithuania had already proven that there are no gods in international basketball.
The USA ran with Germany and played it about as hard as could be asked but when Dennis Schroeder can just glide by two defenders like they don’t exist, it’s not your night. Still, they ran as Edwards and Reaves pushed them to the limit. The nerve held. Deutschland delivered. A first every final for them at the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
I tried to warn you. Pretty much every journalist watching Team USA at this tournament did too. USA Basketball, right now, is not FIBA basketball. To be frank, I’m not even sure what we saw from them over two weeks in Manila was even passable as NBA basketball.
Germany played to their strengths, held their nerve, and got the job done. They knew they could run with the USA. They knew they could shoot with them. Most importantly, they knew what they needed to do to exploit the USA’s deficiencies. Andreas Obst belongs in the all-tournament team. Franz Wagner picked a great time to get health. Dennis Schroeder showed he can be paitent when necessary. Most of all, Daniel Theis made his big beefy presence the stuff of nightmares for the USA.
There has been a lot of talk lately about who are the world champions in basketball. We’ll find out the answer on Sunday.