There was a big hue and cry about the constitution of USA squad before the start of the FIBA basketball World Cup in Spain. Many experts believed that the Team USA was vastly under-staffed in the absence of LeBron James, Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul, all of whom stayed away from the World Cup for one reason or another. But going by their performance in the tournament, the absence of the big NBA stars did not become a handicap. Team USA’s cause was helped further by the shocking early exit of host Spain, the only team that looked like matching the Americans in hooping skills.
On Sunday USA came up with a superb basketball performance in the gold medal game against Serbia with an overwhelming 129-92 victory and for the second time running; emerged as the best team in the world. USA had earlier won the FIBA World Championship in 1954, 1986 and 1994. With 221 points scored in the entire game from both sides, the action did not stop until the last second in an immensely entertaining final. It was the second time since USA’s victory over Russia by 137-91 in 1994 that the scores in the final match reached such mammoth numbers. Even if the full star cast was not present, no one doubted the prowess of Team USA from day one of the FIBA’s newly rechristened World Cup. With their victory, USA extended their winning run to 63 games, including 18 exhibition matches. The Americans also demonstrated their smashing superiority by beating their opponents in the most one-sided manner with an average victory margin hovering at 33-point.
The US victory leader was the tournament MVP Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving, who scored 26 points followed by 23 points from James Harden of Houston Rockets. As the match began at the Palacio de los Deportes de la Comunidad arena of Madrid on Sunday night, the Serbs stole an early 12-5 lead, which was too short-lived as the Americans responded with a blistering 17-3 run and created a 22-15 lead of their own. They extended it further to 35-19 as Irving nailed three three-pointers in scoring 15 points in the period. Beginning with a 35-21 first-quarter advantage, the American shooters remained relentless in attack and they knocked down six more three-pointers to take the halftime score to 67-41. Try as they might, the Serbians could not close the gap by less than 24 point at any stage against the dominant Americans. At the end of the third quarter the scores became 105-67, a lead of 38 points. There was no question of a Serbian comeback at this juncture and it was merely a matter of USA’s victory margin as the teams entered the final round. As a solace, the relaxed Americans allowed Serbia to take the fourth quarter 25-24 but they still won the championship game by 129-92.
It was clear that USA saved their best performance for the gold medal match. The victory earned them an automatic entry into the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. Beside the MVP Kyrie Irving and James Harden, six other Americans produced double-digit scores. Klay Thompson and Kenneth Faried scored 12 points each, Demarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay 11 each and Stephen Curry and DeMar DeRozan 10 each.
While USA won the championship, Serbia also finished the tournament with some credit. The team had a poor 2-3 result at group stage but once they entered the knock-out phase, their play improved dramatically. Serbia defeated Greece and Brazil and fought with France for a 90-85 semifinal victory. They had the part in the final too as they led early, only to be dominated later. But after the third quarter, they did not allow US to enhance the lead further by taking the fourth quarter 25-24. For Serbia, Nikola Kalinic and Nemanja Bjelica scored 18 points; Bogdan Bogdanovic added 15 and Milos Teodosic another 10 and regardless of their loss, they still secured their best showing at this level of basketball under the Serbian flag.
On Saturday, the third-place play-off was won by France, who defeated Lithuania 95-93 in another thrilling encounter. But it was not easy for France as Lithuania had led 71-64 at the end of the third quarter. The European champions had to put up their best show in the fourth quarter to take the bronze medal. For France, Nicolas Batum led the scoring with 27 points and Jonas Valanciunas did likewise to score 25 points for Lithuania.