Marc Stein: Kyrie Irving

Rapid reaction: USA routs Serbia for gold

September, 14, 2014
9/14/14
5:24
PM ET


MADRID -- Some at-the-buzzer instant analysis from press row at the Palacio de Deportes after Team USA completed a nine-game sweep at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup with a 129-92 demolition of Serbia in Sunday night's final:

How it happened: Anthony Davis picked up two fouls in the first two-plus minutes. Serbia, fueled by the backcourt guile of Milos Teodosic, made its first seven shots and surged to an early eight-point lead. For an instant, Team USA looked like it might have a problem against the tournament's Cinderella.

For an instant or two, tops.

DeMarcus Cousins entered the game for Davis and instantly changed it with his rebounding, rim protection and outlet passing, illustrating precisely why Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski has maintained for weeks that the mercurial Sacramento Kings big man had to be on this team.

Cousins' contributions coincided with eventual tournament MVP Kyrie Irving getting seriously hot, ringing up 15 of his game-high 26 points in that first quarter to spark a stunning 28-6 run to end the period and effectively end this as a contest as quickly as Serbia manufactured that initial hint of hope.

Neither Irving nor Cousins has ever played in an NBA playoff game, but they were the undeniable keys to a turnaround that was highlighted by a run of 15 consecutive Team USA points from that 15-7 deficit. By halftime, Irving (18) and James Harden (17) had combined for 35 points, nearly outscoring the Serbs by themselves.

"I think we're doing a helluva job on both ends of the floor," Irving told ESPN between halves.

Because Davis quickly picked up his third foul, Cousins started the second half opposite Serbia's Miroslav Raduljica and his Harden-esque beard. Cousins not only continued to help Team USA control the boards but also resisted any Serbian attempts to get under his skin, ranking as important in this one as anyone in red, white and blue.

The second half was the expected cruise from there, with the Americans' lead rising as high as 40 and Irving and Harden (23 points) finally busting out with the sort of Kevin Durant-style shooting seen four years ago at the Worlds in Turkey that just demoralizes teams. Smothering defense has been this team's go-to guy until the final, but Irving and Harden finally mustered some gaudy scoring totals (in a 40-minute game) for a team that showed up with no one averaging better than Harden's 13.1 points per game.

So they made history in style, taking the 3-pointer away from the Serbs (5-for-25 from deep) like they did to so many teams before them and finishing the tournament with an average margin of victory of 33.0.

Better yet: Team USA became the first country in the annals of FIBA basketball to win four consecutive major titles. Add this World Cup to Olympic golds in 2008 and 2012 and a FIBA World Championship in 2010, all of them under Krzyzewski.

No country, including the United States, had ever won more than three in a row.

The Streak: Team USA won't play another competitive game until the 2016 Olympics in Brazil and will tote an unbeaten run of 63 games into its first exhibition game that summer. The streak includes 45 consecutive victories in Olympic and FIBA tournaments to go with another 18 wins in exhibition games. The Americans haven't tasted defeat since losing in the semifinals of the 2006 FIBA World Championship against Greece and launched this streak on Sept. 2, 2006, with a 96-81 victory over Argentina in the bronze-medal game in Japan. With the results of the 2006 Worlds dropping off the computer in the next batch of FIBA rankings, to be replaced by this tournament, Team USA's hold on the top spot will be cemented further.

Play of the game: After a wild scramble at midcourt when Kenneth Faried ill-advisedly tried to run the fast break instead of getting the ball to Derrick Rose, Klay Thompson came up with the loose ball near the sideline furthest from the American bench and flung a quick two-handed lead pass to Rose under the hoop.

Rose, spotting Faried's dart to the rim, punched the ball right into Faried's path with a heady touch pass that Faried collected and hammered home for a dunk and a 45-26 lead.

The lead would rise as high as 31 points in the first half before Team USA settled for a 67-41 edge at intermission, which proved plenty.

Numbers game: Team USA made its first five 3-pointers and finished a crucial 15-for-30 from long range.


The early 15-7 hole that the United States found itself in was its biggest deficit of the tournament.


Team USA accounted for 40 percent of the All-Tournament Team, with Irving and Kenneth Faried claiming two of the five spots along with Spain's Pau Gasol, France's Nicolas Batum and Teodosic.


Rose entered the final averaging just 5.4 points per game in the tournament on 27.3 percent shooting, including a lowly 1-for-17 on 3-pointers. He signed off with zero points and six assists against the Serbs, but there's another stat of note: Rose's nine tournament games over the past three weeks are just one shy of the 10 games he played in over the last two seasons with the Bulls.


Team USA came into the title game leading the tournament in points per game (101.5), field goal percentage (.516), rebounds per game (44.9), assists per game (21.0) and steals per game (13.1). And then proceeded to fatten most of those numbers.


By winning its fourth successive major title, Team USA set a new standard for itself. The program's previous best was three consecutive titles from 1992 to 1996 (Olympics, Worlds, Olympics) and 1952 to 1956 (also Olympics, Worlds, Olympics). Sunday's title
established the Americans as just the third nation in World Cup history to repeat as champion, joining Brazil (1959, 1963) and the former Yugoslavia (1998, 2002).


Sunday's title established the Americans as just the third nation in World Cup history to repeat as champion, joining Brazil (1959, 1963) and the former Yugoslavia (1998, 2002).

What's next: The 2014-15 NBA season, believe it or not, starts Sept. 29 for most teams and on Sept. 26 for the handful that will play exhibition games abroad in October.

Either way that's less than two weeks away for all these guys.

But now for the good news: By winning this World Cup, Team USA clinched a summer off in 2015. Only the World Cup champion can claim an automatic spot in the 2016 Olympics, though host Brazil is expected to be granted entry from FIBA as well.

So thanks to this win, Team USA won't have to play another meaningful game until its preparations for the Rio Games. It will happily avoid the 2015 FIBA Americas tournament in Mexico and focus instead for the usual minicamp Krzyzewski and Jerry Colangelo will convene in Las Vegas in July in an off summer just to bring the group together for a weeklong reunion.

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