The Basketball World Cup was about clashing the USA and Spain (the host country) in another mouth watering final, but France went ahead and spoiled that fantasy by beating the Spaniards in the quarterfinals, so the American team has Lithuania to play against in the semifinals, and then waiting for the winner between the surprising Serbia and the French.
All tournament long, and even before it, we’ve been hearing about how Spain is the only team that can face and match the American team in terms of size and quality, especially in the paint. It turns out that having the Gasol brothers, Ricky Rubio, Serge Ibaka, Rudy Fernandez, Jose Calderon and a bunch of other stars isn’t enough.
France might not be playing with their biggest star, Tony Parker. Joakim Noah stayed at home as well. Still, having Boris Diaw and Nicolas Batum to lead your team while Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz had a monster game in the paint, which included 15 rebounds against the fearsome Spanish frontcourt, was enough to pull off the upset in a 65-52 win.
So this is good for Team USA, right? There’s a lot of anger and feeling of being disrespected among some American players, who keep hearing about how their frontcourt won’t be able to compete when it’s going to be finally tested, suggesting that the teams they played in the group stage and the knockout stages weren’t good enough to test them.
While it is true that their draw has been incredibly comfortable, we’ve seen this team go through rough and slow patches early on in games against big and small teams. Through each and every one of their ordeals, they’ve seemed to find that moment in which the game and ability pick up and their combination of skills, athleticism and size is a bit too much for all their opponents. It should be the same against those left standing in the tournament.
Throwing names like Jonas Valanciunas or Donatas Motiejunas doesn’t put a scare into them. Lithuania also have size with the Lavrinovic brothers, but while they might provide problems under the basket, they’re not the players Anthony Davis, Kenneth Faries and DeMarcus Cousins are. There’s also Andre Drummond and Mason Plumlee to throw at them if needed.
Team USA isn’t judged by the same standards other teams are. Everyone keeps talking about Mantas Kalnietis missing from the Lithuania team and how they’ve had to adjust, but no team came into this tournament missing major talent quite like the United States: Kevin Durant pulled out, Paul George got injured. Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Chris Paul, LeBron James – they didn’t even make an effort to compete.
Still, unless the United States lead early and go on to win by more than 30 points, people will say they struggled.