Some at-the-buzzer instant analysis from press row at the Bilbao Exhibition Center after Team USA's 98-71 victory here Tuesday afternoon over New Zealand in Group C:
How it happened: The Americans couldn't have shown New Zealand more respect before the opening tip, lining up neatly as a group to face every single one of the Kiwis as they went through the various shouts and stomps of their traditional Haka pregame dance.
Team USA then calmly strolled over to its bench and proceeded to crush its overmatched foe like everyone knew it would to remain the only unbeaten team of the six in the group.
The gulf between the U.S. and New Zealand was so stark, so obvious from the start, that the arena atmosphere fell unavoidably flat as early as the second quarter ... as flat as any Team USA game that I ever remember attending. I'm convinced this would have been a rout in the neighborhood of Saturday night's 59-point demolition of Finland if there was a raucous crowd in the house, like the Finns brought to Bilbao, to fuel Team USA with some cause to keep pouring it on.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski did his best to liven things in the second half by starting Derrick Rose in place of Kyrie Irving and letting Rose play the first 6:17 of the second half with the other starters. Rose did little of note statistically -- totaling three points in 17 minutes and missing five of his six shots -- but at least that gave you a reason to stay tuned in. Rose started the fourth quarter, as well.
Otherwise? Anthony Davis (21 points and nine rebounds) and Kenneth Faried (15 and 11) led the way again statistically, using their athleticism and quickness to overpower New Zealand's overmatched big men. (Oklahoma City's Steven Adams, remember, is taking the summer off from the national team, with no one else close to NBA level on New Zealand's roster to challenge the American bigs.)
The streak: Make it 57 wins in a row and counting for Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski. The unbeaten run includes 39 wins in Olympic and FIBA competitions and another 18 in friendlies. It's an unbeaten run that began on Sept. 2, 2006, with a 96-81 triumph over Argentina in the bronze-medal game at the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan.
Play of the game: In the first quarter, Steph Curry threw a lob to Faried from his own half of the court.
You can relive the play via this helpful video:
By the numbers: Team USA blasted New Zealand by 48 points when the teams last met at this level at the 2002 FIBA World Championship in Indianapolis. The margin of victory was far smaller this time -- 27 points -- which has to be classified as a surprise given that New Zealand was fielding a much weaker team.
But, again, this was a hard one to get up for from the American perspective.
I must also confess that I now have an unexplainable hankering to dig out the tape of the 2002 encounter to figure out how those Kiwis could have suffered a 110-62 defeat to the worst national team fielded by USA Basketball since NBA players were ushered into the international game in 1992. You'll surely recall that New Zealand managed to finish fourth at those Worlds in Indy, sparked by current Kiwis assistant coach Pero Cameron, who was the only non-NBA player to earn an all-tournament selection.
The Americans, meanwhile, finished a humbling sixth in that competition in what is generally regarded as a low point for the sport in the United States.
New Zealand's high scorer was B.J. Anthony, with 11 points.
Faried was 7-for-9 from the field in totaling 15 points to go with his 11 rebounds and is shooting 80.8 percent from the floor for the tournament. We repeat: 80.8 percent.
New Zealand fielded three current U.S. collegiate players Tuesday night: Isaac Fotu (Hawaii), Rob Loe (Saint Louis) and Tai Webster (Nebraska).
But with Adams declining to play for the national team this summer to focus on his development with the Thunder, former Wisconsin star Kirk Penney ranked as the only New Zealander on the floor with any NBA experience.
Penney finished with a quiet six points on 3-for-9 shooting.
What's next: In the second of three games in three nights, Team USA plays the Dominican Republic in a 9:30 p.m. local tipoff, which airs at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
The teams met Aug. 20 at Madison Square Garden, with the Americans cruising to a 41-point triumph. But this will be just the second all-time meeting between the countries at World Cup level; Team USA posted a 104-65 triumph in 1978 in the Philippines.
"Garcia has played lights out here and seems to have found his rhythm and has been a real leader for them," Krzyzewski said. "I think they are playing much better then when we played them before, because they are comfortable with one another and they’ve won here. So we can’t look at them like they were, we have to look at them as they are right now."
In a surprise in Tuesday's late game, Garcia and the Dominicans posted a 74-68 victory over Finland to uphold Group C's unpredictable nature among the teams below the 3-0 United States in the standings.