San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich just barely pulled out an overtime win leading Team USA against Turkey early Tuesday morning.
NBA Twitter is going to overreact to the results of today’s meeting between Team USA and Turkey without context for the matchup. International basketball is not as cut and dried as it once was – the sport is global and so are its players. While the NBA may be the pinnacle of elite basketball competition, that doesn’t discount the grittiness and intensity of FIBA World Cup hoops.
It was jarring for basketball fans to see Team USA narrowly defeat Turkey 93-92 in overtime after nearly losing the contest in regulation. Clutch free throws by Celtics forward Jayson Tatum forced the game into OT after getting fouled on a three-pointer with only 0.1 second remaining in the game. The 21-year-old made 2-of-3 from the charity stripe in an excellent all-around performance.
Few players shot particularly well for Gregg Popovich’s bunch today as Team USA finished the game 27-of-77 from the field for 35.1 percent field goal shooting and 35 percent shooting from behind the arc. Tatum shot just 3-of-11 for 11 points – a mark that wouldn’t impress the casual bystander – but asserted his dominance elsewhere by stuffing the stat sheet with 11 boards, three dimes, two blocks and two steals. He tweaked his ankle late on a hustle play near the end of overtime but expects to be okay moving forward.
Khris Middleton's free throws lift the United States over Turkey in the group stage of the FIBA Basketball World Cup! pic.twitter.com/eU5sAHlUwC
— ESPN (@espn) September 3, 2019
The San Antonio Spurs’ rising star Derrick White had a quiet outing for Team USA, dropping two points, two rebounds and three assists in just 11 minutes of playing time. White barely made the final roster for this group despite showing out in practices against some of the best competition in the World Cup. Now that he’s on the team, he’s playing within the confines of a limited role even though his coach knows exactly what to expect of him.
This is a blessing in disguise because more playing time equates to a higher risk of injury, something the Spurs cannot afford in their pursuit of an illustrious 23rd consecutive post-season appearance. White is a vital cog in San Antonio’s machine, so Pop limiting his playing time could be inspired by other motives.
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Bucks swingman Khris Middleton iced the game with two clutch free throws as Turkey missed on their final four from the charity stripe. He led Team USA in scoring with 15 points on 55.9 percent shooting from the field and 2-of-4 shooting from three-point land. After earning his first All-Star selection this past year, Middleton continues to prove himself as one of the game’s most calculated and prolific shot creators from the wing.
Meanwhile, Celtics point guard Kemba Walker dropped 14 points of his own along with seven dimes and six boards. Donovan Mitchell struggled his way to nine points, four dimes and four rebounds while lockdown center Myles Turner added on 11 points and nine boards.
Noteworthy Turkish players Ersan Ilyasova (23), Furkan Korkmaz (16) and Cedi Osman (15) combined for 54 of Turkey’s 92 points, establishing that Turkey’s presence in the international ranks shouldn’t be taken lightly.
The United States will round out their first session of games against Japan on Thursday in Shanghai.