Apparently there was a big basketball showdown between the United States and Russia 38 years ago to the day that Team USA and Russia would meet at the world championships this year. They say it was controversial. I say that I was not born yet and neither was any player on either of the two teams who played today. What is the big deal? The Cold War is over, it is 2010. Last time I checked, Kevin Durant was not a hawkish neo-con with an agenda of containment. What we have here is two scrappy teams facing each other in a quarterfinals game. Nothing more (well, kind of).
Sloppy and inconsistent, those worlds can describe the play of both Team USA and Russia for the majority of the game. Neither team shot the ball particularly well with the United States shooting 42.6 percent on field goals and Russia shooting 45.3 percent. Each team paraded to the charity stripe with Russia making the trip 20 times while the US when to the line 28 times. Team USA made seven more free throws than Russia did which would turn out to be a deciding statistic in what was a relatively close game. Both teams were knotted up at 25 after one quarter of play and Team USA held a five point lead at the half.
As usual, Team USA was paced by Kevin Durant, who looks to be on a crash course with the tournament MVP selection if the United States can find a way to keep winning and rebuff all the naysayers and ‘B-Team’ slander. Luis Scola is giving him a run for his money, though. Durant scored 33 points on 11-19 shooting with three three-pointers, five rebounds, two steals, and two blocks.
Despite being undersized, especially against the size of Russia’s frontcourt, Lamar Odom played one of his best games. He pulled down 12 rebounds with five of them being offensive. His defensive presence and rebounding were invaluable as Team USA’s other centers, Kevin Love and Tyson Chandler, only logged a combined 10 minutes of playing time. As a whole, Russia out-rebounded Team USA 45-37. Odom finished the game with six points and two steals to go along with his rebounds.
While Durant and Odom kept the game manageable, it was Russell Westbrook who broke it open.
Team USA began to pull away from Russia midway through the third quarter. Up until the 5:19 mark, when Derrick Rose mad one of two free throws to put the United States up 54-47, the two teams had remained close. After Rose’s free throw make, Team USA went on a 16-9 run, fueled by Russell Westbrook who had seven points during that stretch, to close the quarter with a lead of 70-56. Westbrook was not finished. He scored the first three points of the fourth quarter to push the lead to 17. Westbrook would finish the game with 12 points. The lead would grow to 81-63 with seven and a half minutes to play in the fourth quarter on a layup make by Durant before Russia would begin to try and claw back and make things uncomfortable for Team USA. Russia closed out the fourth quarter on a 16-8 run. However, the lead that United States had built proved to be too great and Team USA walked away with an 89-79 victory.
Take that, Khrushchev!
Timofey Mozgov finished with 13 points and four rebounds for Russia.
The United States played up to their modus operandi of this tournament. They stared off slowly, allowing their opponent to keep the game close before ramping up their defensive pressure half way through the third quarter. Team USA forced Russia into 18 turnovers, 14 of which came as the result of steals by the US.
Team USA’s next opponent in the semifinals will be the winner of the game between Argentina, who has Luis Scola, and Lithuania. Scola is averaging 30.3 points and 8.3 rebounds during the FIBA World Championships.