Serbia came out ready to fight but Kyrie Irving didn’t take long to kill off their dreams as the USA rode a big first quarter from their point guard to a crushing victory in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup Final.
There was no doubt who looked more confident at the start of this one. Buoyed on by a raucous crowd, many of whom flew over on the day, Serbia played with fluidity in the opening exchanges. Serbia wanted to play fast and the USA stuttered. After a terrible air ball with his opening shot, Anthony Davis picked up a pair of fouls in the game’s first three minutes and had to sit. For all the strength the USA owned inside, Serbia were happy to attack there and moved into a 10-5 lead and Mike Krzyzewski had to call a timeout with 6.44 to go in the first.
Beating this USA team isn’t about out-gunning them early, it’s about living with them for 40 minutes because in every game up to this one they have enjoyed a big stretch where they busted a hole and ended the contest. Still, it hardly hurt to try and punch them in the nose early. The lead went out to 8 but James Harden cooled matters with a three and DeMarcus Cousins made a big block on Miroslav Raduljica before evening the score from the line.
Kyrie Irving changed the tone of the game with a pair of short range finishes either side of a three. We were still only six and a half minutes into the final and already it looked like Serbia’s chance was slipping. Krstic had made a couple of misses inside, the USA was up 7 on the back of a 15-0 run. Rarely has the back end of a first quarter appeared to hold so much importance in a game.
Irving was far from done, another three and Serbia were up against it. With Boogie taking care of business on D, Kyrie was finally taking command of the American offence. What started out as a Serbian onslaught looked like a USA blowout after just 10 minutes. Irving made his third three to pound the message home and Coach K’s men led 35-21.
Faried, having been forced to sit and watch while his team mates took over, came out with a lot of energy in the second but was forcing is just a touch too much. Faried made his presence felt with a put-back dunk and then another slam off a fast-break but he also picked up his third foul and had had to sit once more. Serbia managed to slow the bleeding, mainly from the line, as Davis also hit the three foul mark. With no Davis or Faried, Rudy Gay stepped up to keeping the pounding going. A dunk and a three from Gay pushed the lead past the 20 point mark for the first time. Irving made yet another from deep and the pain game continued.
For Irving this was a critical performance. His stats in this tournament had been solid throughout the USA’s coast to the final but at no point prior to the final had he taken the opportunity to command this side’s attack. With Kevin Love and LeBron James waiting for him back in Cleveland, there are going to be a lot of games where he isn’t the man but the Cavs need him to be willing to take the mantle when they need him to. Tonight, in front of a hostile crowd, he took about 6 minutes to silence the arena and remind everyone what he can do when he takes control. Such was Irving’s control on the game that it was easy to miss that Harden was pounding the serves almost as much in his own right with 17 first half points. At the half it was 67-41 to the USA.
Irving wasn’t going away, good or bad, he had a bucket, rebound, and turnover within a minute of the restart. Things got a little testy, for the second game in a row, as the USA kept pounding on their opponents. Boogie, who briefly got into it with Radujica, blocked the Serbian big and the lead hit the 30 point mark. It took 28 minutes 17 seconds to hit the 100 point mark, the first time the feat was ever achieved within three quarters of a World Cup or Championship finla, on pace to match Dream Team II’s record of 137 in 40, and truly extraordinary in an era where the USA’s lead over the rest of the world is meant to be dwindling. With 10 minutes of this World Cup left, the USA led 105-67.
The only question with the fourth was whether the USA would beat their own record from the 1994 final. The early pace of the final frame hurt their bid and eventually they fell shy of the target. The final tally however remained historic
This was, by a very wide margin, the best performance the USA put in over their 9 games in Bilbao, Barcelona, and Madrid. All the way through the route to the final, they looked like a team that could dominate without playing to their best. The early surge from Serbia was what they needed to wake up and bring their best. Davis and Faried, who made my team of the tournament, were at their quietest but those bigs after carrying the load for a fortnight it was refreshing to see the rest of Team USA step up and attack. Boogie was in blinding form all night, Harden had a complete game after blowing hot and cold at times on the way to the final, and most of all Irving showed the type of dominant leadership he is capable of even when surrounded by the game’s greats.
Serbia were always a long shot to win this and needed absolutely everything to go right just to make a fight of it. For the guts of 4 minutes it did but their lack of perimeter threat and failure to address the US response in the first quarter meant they were always in for a long night. For a team that barely grabbed an automatic spot here, a silver medal is a great result and their run through the knockout rounds was as exciting as it was admirable. Tonight however they ran into the big dog and it was at its very best.
Unbeaten since 2006, 9-0 here, and back to back world titles for the USA. Next stop Rio.