Posted Sep 9 2010 2:56PM
ISTANBUL -- No team in the 2010 FIBA World Championship has as much speed as the United States. No team has as much athleticism. And no other team has Kevin Durant.
Those are the advantages head coach Mike Krzyzewski knew he had coming into this tournament. And those are exactly the advantages his team used in Thursday's 89-79 quarterfinal victory over Russia.
With the win, the Americans advance to a semifinal game against Lithuania on Saturday (noon ET, ESPN Classic).
The game wasn't as close as the final score would indicate, but the U.S. didn't get real comfortable until the second half. And it was the usual issues that plagued them in the first 20 minutes.
The Americans struggled to defend Russia's pick-and-roll and off-ball screens early. New Knicks center Timofey Mozgov came off the bench to score nine points in the first quarter for Russia. The U.S. also struggled to control the glass, giving up nine offensive rebounds in the first half.
Offensively, the U.S. struggled to move the ball against the Russian's matchup zone, at one point getting just two scores in a 12-possession stretch that spanned the first and second quarters. And with 4:48 to go in the half, Russia's offensive execution had given them a five-point lead.
But over the next 18 minutes and 45 seconds, the U.S. proved that one issue that had plagued them earlier in the tournament was under control. The U.S. averaged 14.6 turnovers per game in pool play, but committed just five against Angola on Monday.
The Americans' 12-0 run that gave them the lead for good in the second quarter coincided with a 34-possession stretch during which they didn't commit a single turnover. They finished with just eight for the game, giving them less in their two elimination games (13) than they averaged in pool play.
The U.S. took care of the ball well while playing one of the fastest-paced games of the tournament. Russia was a team that likes to play physically and slowly, but the Americans didn't let them. The U.S. used its speed and stayed aggressive on both ends of the floor.
Defensively, the U.S. forced 18 Russia turnovers. As they did in a tight pool play game against Brazil, the Americans made an adjustment to defend the pick-and-roll more aggressively. As a result, the Russian point guards weren't able to get the ball to their bigs, and Mozgov and starting center Sasha Kaun combined for just eight points after the first quarter.
It wasn't a dominant performance like Monday's win over a grossly outmatched Angola squad. But the U.S. did what it needed to in order to curb its opponent's size advantage.
"It was even," Krzyzewski said. "They didn't dominate and we didn't stop them. It didn't become a part of the game where they could have beaten us."
Offensively, the U.S. beat Russia off the dribble, took the contact, and got to the line 28 times, more than in any exhibition or World Championship game this year.
And while the U.S. piled up some assists -- 17 of their 29 baskets came off an assist -- this was most definitely the Kevin Durant show. Against what was the fourth-best defensive team in the tournament, Durant went off for 33 points on 11-of-19 shooting and made 8-of-9 from the line.
"I thought, for the most part, we made Kevin work for the stuff he got," Russian coach David Blatt said. "He made plays. And that's the definition of a great player, a guy who can make plays when he's being pressed, when he's being guarded."
Durant, who has always looked to share the spotlight with this teammates, knows that he's not supposed to share the ball nearly as much.
"We're going to go to him," Krzyzewski said. "I've learned in coaching that you should get your best player the ball. And a lot of times, you look better as a coach."
Despite his little battle of words with Blatt in the days preceding the games, Krzyzewski is looking pretty good right now. With all of players from the 2008 Olympic team deciding to stay home this summer, and with four big men lost to injury or illness early in camp, Krzyzewski has formed a team that has made up for the roster's lack of size and international experience.
"They have recognized and realized how to play the European game," Blatt said. "But at the same time, they still maintain the elements and the advantages that the American game has to offer."
Speed, athleticism and Kevin Durant.
The formula has worked so far, but the competition will get tougher over the weekend. In the semifinals on Saturday, the U.S. will have to find a way to stop an undefeated Lithuanian squad that is looking much stronger since the two teams played three weeks earlier. The U.S. won that warmup in Madrid, 77-61.
If the U.S. gets past Lithuania, an even tougher test could await in the gold medal game on Sunday, because the Turkish team has looked dominant playing in front of a very loud and intimidating home crowd of 15,000. The Turkish team plays Serbia on Saturday afternoon in the other semifinal.
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