BOSTON – If Saturday’s opener was any indication, it looks like Team USA might not need Kevin Durant after all in order to take care of business in the FIBA 2014 World Cup.
Team USA put together a dominating performance in their first game of the tournament Saturday evening, dispatching an overmatched Finland team by a stunning score of 114-55. Every player on the Team USA roster scored four or more points in the rout, highlighted by the Americans outscoring Finland by a staggering 29-2 total in the second quarter.
It was a welcome start to the tournament for head coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff after Team USA’s roster faced some depth concerns in the weeks leading up the tournament. Durant dropped out from the tournament due to fatigue issues a few weeks back and another top scorer, Paul George, was sidelined for the tournament after breaking his leg during a team scrimmage in July.
Despite those losses, and the absence of other top NBA stars like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant on the roster, the Americans lived up to their billing as the heavy favorites to win the FIBA World Cup after Saturday’s effort.
A new younger breed of Americans have stepped up to fill the void in place of Durant and George, as it appears now that Team USA may have their biggest edge of the tournament in the frontcourt.
Saturday’s opener was a major example of this development as centers Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Drummond could not be contained by an undersized Finland front line. The trio combined for 35 points and 22 rebounds in just 40 minutes of action, fighting off regular double teams to get easy looks in the paint.
The Americans also imposed their will on the defensive end of the floor all night, forcing Finland to shoot an ugly 0-for-17 from the field in the second quarter, leading to a meager two points in the frame. Finland managed to hit just 28 percent of their shots from the field overall.
Despite the easy win, it wasn’t a perfect performance for the tournament favorites. Team USA only managed to shoot a mediocre 33 percent from 3-point range (6-of-18) while coughing up 19 turnovers. The Americans can get away with those kinds of numbers against an inferior team like Finland, but will have to step up their game against other top countries in the tournament.
A bigger challenge will be on the horizon on Sunday evening, as USA takes on Turkey, led by Omer Asik. The veteran center is one of the top defensive players in the league, so he should provide stiffer resistance against Davis, Cousins and company. Other top Turkish players like Enes Kanter and Hedo Turkoglu are not with Turkey for this tournament though, so Team USA should be able to take care of business yet again.
The real challenge for this group will come during the knockout portion of the tournament since the Americans are in Group C with Finland, Ukraine, Turkey, New Zealand, and the Dominican Republic.
None of those teams are expected to be medal contenders and as a whole, it’s considered the weakest group in the Cup, so USA should breeze through group play during the next week (four teams advance from each group).
Still, it will be crucial for the Americans to develop a rhythm during these contests to ensure they have a reliable rotation in place when they face off with the other contenders for the Cup such as Spain, Lithuania, and Brazil in the medal round of the tournament.
After Saturday evening though, Team USA should be feeling pretty good about their new-look roster. If this group continues to mesh in the coming days, it’s hard to see anyone slowing down the Americans in Spain.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.
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