BILBAO, Spain -- Some at-the-buzzer instant analysis from press row at the Bilbao Exhibition Center after Team USA's 98-77 victory here Sunday night over Turkey in Group C:
How It Happened: You didn't hear a soul in Spain or anywhere else bill it this way in the hours leading up to tipoff, but this rematch of the 2010 FIBA World Championship final in Istanbul turned out to be the better game of the two.
At least for three quarters.
With eight players back from its 2010 team, including Omer Asik jumping center against new New Orleans frontcourt mate Anthony Davis, Turkey put on an absolute first-half clinic in terms of controlling the pace and slowing the Americans down, which is obviously the blueprint to beat them.
Team USA's errant early shooting, whether against zone looks or man-to-man schemes, became an even bigger problem because the Asik-led Turks snared a 21-12 rebounding edge in the first half, snuffing out second-chance opportunities. And with Team USA doing too much gambling and fouling, Turkey went to the line 18 times in the first two quarters to just five for the Americans, dragging things even further.
It was textbook stuff from wily old Turkey coach Ergin Ataman, one of Europe's best. And it continued until the fourth quarter, when Kenneth Faried (22 points, eight rebounds) and Davis (19 points and six boards) finally got the favorites going, because Turkey drained the first five 3-pointers it attempted in the third.
Team USA might have won by a 20-plus-point margin in the end, but it didn't see its first double-digit lead until there was 8:57 remaining in regulation. Which has to rank as a surprise -- as good as Ataman is as a strategist -- because Turkey has been so poor over the last year and didn't even bring Milwaukee's Ersan Ilyasova and Utah's Enes Kanter to Spain along with Asik, who ranks as the only current NBA player on Ataman's roster.
How poor? The Turks needed a wild-card entry just to get to Spain after losing four of their five games at EuroBasket 2013 in Slovenia. They also struggled mightily in Saturday's opener here against an unremarkable New Zealand squad, needing a late rally to secure a 76-73 victory and with Asik limited to just 10 minutes against the Kiwis because Turkey had trouble keeping up with the opposition's small-ball approach.
Of course, Ataman wasn't coaching the Turks in last summer's EuroBasket and wasn't even the first choice back home to coach this group. The Turkish federation has to be relieved it ultimately saw sense and gave him the job.
The Streak: Nervy as it was for three quarters, Team USA ultimately managed to win its 56th game in a row dating to 2006. That includes 38 wins in a row in Olympic and FIBA competitions and 18 exhibition games. The unbeaten run began on Sept. 2, 2006, with a 96-81 triumph over Argentina in the bronze-medal game at the 2006 World Championship in Japan.
Play Of The Game: On a third-quarter drive, Kyrie Irving lost complete control of the ball, which sailed high into the air and swished through for one of the weirdest floaters you'll ever see.
The resulting 55-53 lead for Team USA was the first sign during a long evening that things would ultimately go the Yanks' way.
By The Numbers: Davis scored all 19 of his points in the second half after slinking into intermission with just one rebound ... and zero points.
Steph Curry started an uncharacteristic 0-for-8 from 3-point land and 1-for-10 in the tournament overall before finally getting a few 3s to drop. But Curry is shooting only 4-for-17 in total through two games.
Playing in his first back-to-back since that ill-fated stop in Portland in November when he suffered his second season-ending knee injury in two years, Derrick Rose had a rough night against Turks. He managed just two points in 17 minutes and spent a long stint on the bench until the fourth quarter after clearly lacking the sharpness he displayed in Monday's rout of Finland.
This was quite a contrast to Saturday's night's 59-point pummeling of Finland. The rout in Team USA's Group C opener was its second-largest victory ever in this event, bettered only by the 79-point win over South Korea posted by a team of collegians in 1990 coached by Mike Krzyzewski.
At left is a list of the four largest victory margins in major tournaments for USA Basketball since NBA players were ushered into the international game in 1992.
What's Next: All of Group C gets a rest day Monday before pool play resumes Tuesday with Team USA meeting New Zealand in a game that tips off at 11:30 a.m. ET.
The Americans played the late game on each of the first two nights of Group C play in Bilbao but get the second of Tuesday's three games against the Kiwis, lodged between Ukraine-Turkey and Finland-Dominican Republic.
Team USA has only faced New Zealand once previously at the World Cup level, winning a 110-62 runaway at the 2002 FIBA World Championship in Indianapolis.