Sunday, September 14, 2014

FIBA Update: Semi-Finals

We are getting to the end of the 2014 FIBA World Cup.  Here is what happened in the semi-finals:

Upper Bracket (in Madrid):
France 85 - 90 Serbia

The Serbs got off to a good start, and led 46-32 at the half.  After three quarters, the Serbs were up 61-46, and seemed to have the situation well in hand.  But at this point, France started pouring in points at a phenomenal rate.  In the last 10 minutes of the game, France scored thirty-nine points -- something that you will almost never see.  Their late charge was led by Nicholas Batum, who finished with 35 points, in large part because he went 8/12 from beyond the arc.  But down the stretch, the Serbs were able to match France blow for blow, never letting the French get closer than three points.  Serbia also did something I've never seen in American basketball -- on two occasions with more than 24 seconds left in the game (in other words, France was not holding the ball for the last shot), the Serbians fouled with a three-point lead in order to prevent France from shooting a three.  This strategy paid off, and the Serbs reached the final.

This was a big deal.  Serbia used to be part of Yugoslavia, and Yugoslavia won this tournament five times -- 1970, 1978, 1990, 1998, and 2002 -- more than any other country, including the United States.  (We have won the title four times:  1954, 1986, 1994, and 2010).  So if the Americans win on Sunday, we will tie Yugoslavia / Serbia for the most FIBA World Championships.  But if the Serbs win, they will have six titles to our four.

Lower Bracket (in Barcelona):
United States 96 - 68 Lithuania

This game featured the absurd officiating that has plagued the United States in FIBA tournaments for years -- and which does much to explain why we have only four FIBA World Championships.  Anthony Davis, who almost never commits a foul, fouled out of the game in only 18 minutes of play, leaving with 8 points and 6 rebounds.  DeMarcus Cousins, the back-up center for the United States who has been great in this tournament, fouled out in only 13 minutes play, leaving with 7 points and 6 rebounds.  And Stephan Curry, a three-point specialist not known for his hard-nosed defense, got four fouls in only 14 minutes, thus significantly limiting his ability to participate in the proceedings.  On the whole, Lithuania -- whose players repeatedly slammed into the Americans as if this were a WWF match-up -- shot 42 free throws, while the Americans reached the line only 20 times.  It is a tribute to Coach K, his coaching staff, and the young American squad that they did not allow themselves to be intimidated or frustrated by such absurd treatment.  Instead, they were all over the Lithuania shooters -- holding them to 2/18 shooting from three-point range, and 15/38 shooting from inside the arc.  Furthermore, after leading 43-35 at the half, the Americans blitzed Lithuania 33-14 in the third quarter, effectively putting the game away.

Today, the Americans take on Serbia in Madrid for the title.  They will not get much credit if they win this tournament.  But it should be recalled that in the long history of American basketball, we have never won two FIBA titles in a row, and we have never won four consecutive tournaments (i.e., two Olympics and two FIBA titles).  It should also be remembered that in 1998, 2002, and 2006 -- all tournaments where we sent NBA players to the FIBA World Championship -- the Americans could not even reach the finals.  From that low point, Coach K has put together a spectacular run of results that has certainly surprised me and, I am certain, has surprised the rest of the world.  FIBA officials will be out in force today, and the Serbs have some great players, so anything can happen.  But I am very proud of what our guys have accomplished so far.

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