Following USA Basketball’s only day of rest in this midst of this six-day span in which they will have played five games, the troops were back in action today as they took on New Zealand in their third Group C matchup of the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
New Zealand’s roster is not headed by any recognizable NBA talent, but they’ve got a couple of former NCAA stars that could spark your memory. Kirk Penney played four years at Wisconsin, highlighted by his senior season where he averaged 16 points and six assists per game and a 2000 Final Four appearance. Penney, the second player from New Zealand to appear in an NBA game after Sean Marks, had a cup of coffee in the NBA as he signed 10-day contracts with the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers in 2003 and 2004 but only appeared in a total of six games. New Zealand is also partially lead by Rob Loe, who spent the last four years at Saint Louis University, where the 6’11” big man put up 10.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game in 2013-14. They’ve also got a talented young guard by the name of Tai Webster, who will be a sophomore at the University of Nebraska this coming NCAA season.
Contrary to the stagnant start to Sunday’s contest against Turkey, USA Basketball imposed their will from the get-go today. They established pace immediately after tip-off, as their run and gun approach made their incredible physical advantage apparent right away. Team USA also made it a point to work the ball inside from the jump, which was comforting to watch after the way they settled for perimeter jumpers in the first half vs. Turkey. After a pair of early alley-oop conversions along with an abundance of entry passes to bigs flashing duck-ins on the low block, the United States perimeter game was opened up as Mike Krzyzewski got some of that inside-out basketball that he is looking for in the halfcourt. However, they did not separate themselves much on the scoreboard as New Zealand relentlessly attacked their watered down defensive resistance, which we have unfortunately seen from the US in spurts.
At the end of the first quarter, where Kenneth Faried hustled his way to seven early points, Team USA held a 27-20 advantage.
The United States opened the second frame with significantly increased defensive pressure, with Kyrie Irving picking up his man full-court while they worked to trap New Zealand’s ball handlers in the corners and force tougher shots. New Zealand generally moved the ball well and found open shooters but they did not have anybody who could attack the heart of the US defense. Additionally, they simply could not handle the United States’ speed or prowess off the bounce on the other end of the floor. The US could not be touched as they leaked out in transition off of rebounds and forced 12 first half turnovers, helping them get off to a 23-9 run throughout the first six minutes of the second quarter as the differential on the scoreboard grew out of hand quickly.
New Zealand not only struggled to guard, they were unable to establish any kind of offensive rhythm throughout the first half as a result of a strong defensive stand from the red, white and blue. This contest was a certified blowout before intermission, where Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis tallied 11 points apiece and combined for 10 rebounds. The United States held a 57-35 lead at the half.
With a victory already in place, Coach K decided to extend the minutes of some of his bench guys and even started Derrick Rose in place of Kyrie Irving to begin the second half. Rose was not very effective on the whole, as he shot just 1-6 from the field and settled for outside jumpers, but was very active defensively and made multiple deflections.
The United States defensive pressure refused to let up, and they were magnificent in terms of converting out in transition as usual. The best chance that New Zealand had of protecting the rim was to foul when it was attacked, but there are no Shaquille O’Neals or Ben Wallaces out here. Team USA got to the charity stripe for 34 free throw attempts, while New Zealand could hardly even work the ball into the paint and only shot seven free throws for the game.
New Zealand committed 22 turnovers and hit just 29 of their 72 field goal attempts for the game. They had no chance to win, but the United States didn’t control the scoreboard the way they did because of talent alone. The defensive effort was solid while they chose to play inside-out basketball to open up an offensive attack that did damage from all areas on the floor. Instead of allowing the opposition to control the pace of the game like they did in the first half vs. Turkey, Team USA imposed their will on the game from the opening tip with an up-tempo style of play as they got whatever they wanted in the paint.
Kenneth Faried was a monster, yet again. The Manimal put up 11 points and six rebounds in the first half, ran the floor as you would expect him to and was all over the place on his quest to get stops. He was the first to go after loose balls and was probably the most effective US player in terms of trapping New Zealand’s ball handlers up top. Faried finished with a double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds while converting seven of his nine field goal attempts around the rim.
Stephen Curry has struggled mightily throughout FIBA play thus far, but he put together one of his better performances today. He knocked the rust off of his jumper by scoring 12 points on 4-7 shooting, including a pair of triples, was active defensively and pulled down five boards. He also made some terrific advance passes in transition, particularly in the first half, and moved his feet well guarding the ball. The second half of the Splash Brothers, Klay Thompson, displayed his beautiful stroke with 12 points of his own, while burying three of his four three-point attempts.
James Harden and Kyrie Irving rounded out the list of United States players to finish the game in double-figure scoring, as they combined for 23 points on 7-13 shooting, highlighted by three long-balls from Irving and two from Harden. Harden had the stroke going, but also put a lot of pressure on the defense by knifing his way to the rim to draw fouls. He shot 6-8 from the free throw line and didn’t try to do too much with the ball. When he lets the game come to him, he has been very efficient for Team USA.
Mason Plumlee’s numbers don’t jump out at you, but he did a terrific job in his five minutes of action. The former Duke star was banging on the boards, pulled down three rebounds and made a great draw-and-kick pass in the paint. He may not get a chance to play a whole lot, but these minutes are valuable for him in case he is needed down the road against the likes of Spain.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Kenneth Faried was just as deserving of player of the game recognition, but Anthony Davis was a nightmare for New Zealand to defend. He didn’t get the ball much in the first half vs. Turkey, and let it be known by putting up 19 second-half points, but he was a threat the whole way through today. He was the number one component to the success of Team USA’s inside-out attack, which I believe should be the way they play going forward. Davis was extremely aggressive around the rim, getting to the line for 10 free throw attempts and slicing and dicing his way around New Zealand’s suspect interior defense. There was nothing they could do with him. Davis scored 21 points in 22 minutes and generally got everything he wanted all game long.
New Zealand – 71
USA – 98
Team USA will continue their preliminary round schedule tomorrow afternoon at 3:30 pm ET vs. the Dominican Republic, who they routed 105-62 two weeks ago in exhibition play. You can catch the game over on ESPN2.