The 2014 FIBA World Championships have come to an end, and the tournament concluded the way everybody had envisioned – the United States on top. Of course, the majority predicted Spain meeting them in the finals, but that’s another conversation for another time. USA Basketball went up against Serbia and earned the gold medal in dominant, convincing fashion.
Serbia’s road to the championship game included the best of both worlds. In the quarterfinals, they destroyed Brazil 84-56 and held the opposition to just 24 points in the second half. Nicolas Batum did all he could individually to try to push France over Serbia in the semifinals, as he dropped 35 and helped France score 39 fourth quarter points, but Serbia held on to prevail 90-85. Milos Tedosic lead Serbia with back-to-back 20+ point performances as he put up 23 points vs. Brazil and 24 against France.
In terms of NBA talent, Serbia’s national team does not blow you away but they’ve got a few names that may catch your eye. Nenad Krstic is perhaps the most notable, as he played in the NBA from 2004-2011 for the New Jersey Nets, Oklahoma City Thunder and Boston Celtics. The seven footer’s most successful stint in the league came in New Jersey from 2005-2007, where he put up an accumulative 14.2 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. Miroslav Raduljica went undrafted in 2010, but signed with the Milwaukee Bucks last season and appeared in 48 games for them in 2013-14, where he averaged 3.8 points and 2.3 rebounds in under 10 minutes per game. Bogdan Bogdanovic is the latest Serbian to join the NBA family, as the Phoenix Suns selected him 27th overall in June’s 2014 NBA Draft.
Serbia’s offensive gameplan was apparent from the jump – spread out, make the USA defense move side-to-side, run pick n’ roll and most of all, attack the rim. They were so aggressive early on that Anthony Davis picked up two quick fouls within the first two minutes of the game, helping Serbia to get off to a 15-7 start as they converted their first seven field goal attempts and scored 18 of their first 21 points in the paint. DeMarcus Cousins came in to replace The Uniblocker and was magnificent when the team needed him most, as Boogie was a force on both ends of the floor and tallied six points and six rebounds in his first eight minutes of action. His physical presence was too much to handle for the opposition and he protected the rim as well as you could have asked him to.
The story of the first quarter, however, was the dynamite offensive showing from Kyrie Irving, who went bananas with the ball in his hands. Irving lead the charge on a dominant 28-4 US run while hitting six of his first seven shots, three coming from beyond the arc, on his way to 15 first quarter points. Thanks to Irving and Cousins’ two-way excellence, the United States built a 35-21 lead by the end of the first frame.
The second quarter practically mirrored the first in terms of the scoreboard, as Team USA maintained their hot hand and rhythm on their way to a 32-20 advantage in the frame. USA Basketball was absolutely lights out in the first half, knocking down 11 of 16 three-point attempts. Anthony Davis picked up another foul within the first minute of his return to the floor but thanks to DeMarcus Cousins’ defensive presence and paint protection, it didn’t necessarily matter. Serbia scored just four points in the paint throughout the second quarter, after 18 in the first, and were completely unable to make a defensive stand of their own.
Irving was the star of the first quarter offensively, but James Harden made his presence felt in the final 10 minutes of the first half as well. Lead by 18 points from Irving and 17 from Harden, the United States put together a 67-41 lead by intermission.
Similar to the storyline of many contests throughout USA Basketball’s 2014 run, this game was over before the second half even began.
Serbia made an effort to try and rough the United States up a little bit and throw them off of their game from a mental standpoint, as that was really their only chance at creeping back into the game, but that desperation ploy was unsuccessful. Midway through the third quarter, Serbia aligned into mightily uncharacteristic zone coverage, but that didn’t work either. In fact, within one minute Kyrie Irving busted the zone with two more triples and put himself at 6-6 from beyond the arc.
Before the third quarter had concluded, the United States had reached the 100-point mark while Serbia was still stuck at 65.
The United States shot 15-30 from behind the three-point line in the game, locked down the paint for the majority of the contest and put eight players in double-figures.
Kyrie Irving lead all scorers with 26 points on 10-13 shooting, including a perfect 6-6 from downtown, while James Harden was not far behind with 23 of his own on 8-11 shooting.
Team USA got 51 points out of their bench in today’s championship matchup. Klay Thompson shot 5-8 from the floor to lead the bench with 12 points, while DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay tallied 11 apiece. Rudy Gay toughed it out with a chipped tooth and fractured jaw, bringing a great deal of energy on his way to 10 points and three boards.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
KYRIE IRVING – 26 points, 4 assists, 10-13 FG, 6-6 3FG
Kyrie Irving was in full Uncle Drew mode this afternoon. The Cavaliers guard was unconscious from the outside as he hit all six of his three-point attempts, converted on 10 of 13 shots from the field overall and disrupted Serbia’s guards with his ball pressure defensively. Irving was handed the MVP award following the game, for good reason as he made a consistent two-way impact throughout the entirety of the tournament.
DeMarcus Cousins deserves a mention for player of the game, as well. He didn’t light up the scoreboard like Irving or Harden, but his impact on the defensive end of the floor absolutely changed the game when Anthony Davis was in foul trouble. This is the game Coach K needed Cousins to step up most, and he delivered on both ends of the floor as he anchored the US defense, hit seven of eight free throws and was one rebound away from a double-double in 17 minutes of action.
Serbia – 92
USA – 129
UNITED STATES TOURNAMENT MVP
KENNETH FARIED – 12.4 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 64% FG
Kenneth Faried may not necessarily be the best player on this United States squad, but he had as much of an impact as anyone in the tournament in my opinion. The Manimal was awarded a position on the All-Star Five, which is the FIBA World Cup’s All-Tournament team, and was sensational on a consistent level. His energy and activity set the tone for the rest of the squad, he was the most efficient player by leading the entire tournament in field goal percentage, he was extremely aggressive on the glass, he was a constant physical presence on the defensive end and he was outstanding running the floor and finishing in transition.
You can certainly make a case for guys like Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis, and I’m not mad at you if that’s your position, but Faried played some of his best basketball in this tournament and deserves recognition for it as much as anyone else.
This FIBA World Cup Championship victory solidifies USA Basketball’s automatic bid into the 2016 summer Olympic games in Rio. The United States may have been without some of their top players, notably LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Paul George, but they still put together a dominant run on their way to another gold medal.
Congratulations to USA Basketball! I don’t know about you, but I’m already excited for 2016.