LeBron James Debuts New Hairline With Sneaker Line; Twitter Reacts

LeBron James unveiled his new “Lebron 12″ sneakers for Nike on Tuesday, but that wasn’t the only new line he debuted.
The shoes were supposed to be the main show, but all Twitter could talk about was the Cleveland Cavaliers star’s seemingly rejuvenated hairline.
LeBron released his new shoes…AND HIS NEW HAIRLINE?! http://t.co/00Q1po46Zu—   (@SportsNation) September 17, 2014
i dont know if i can live a life without lebron hair jokes. is chris bosh going to not look like a dinosaur next season if so i quit— DANCESTADAMUS (@dances) September 17, 2014
@AminESPN LeBron moved back to Cleveland, lost weight and his hair grew back. Maybe we all need to move to Clevel… nah— Adam Reisinger (@AdamReisinger) September 16, 2014
LeBron James’ hair is growing back. It’s making a comeback. That’s something he couldn’t do in the NBA Finals.— Danny Elzner (@KETK_DannyE) September 17, 2014
When you’re as famous as James, it’s hard to get away with a change in appearance, no matte…

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Watchability: ‘Greek Freak,’ Jabari and Team Twitter

The worst team in the NBA last season has a new coach and a new rookie star.

      
 

 

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USA vs. Serbia: 2014 FIBA Gold Medal Game Score and Twitter Reaction

There was never a doubt for the red, white and blue.

Team USA destroyed Serbia in the 2014 FIBA World Cup final to the tune of 129-92. Kyrie Irving led the way with 26 points on 10-of-13 shooting from the field and 6-of-6 from downtown, while James Harden added 23 points on 8-of-11 shooting.

Irving was named the MVP for the World Cup, while NBA on ESPN shared the entire all-tournament team:

Nikola Kalinic and Nemanja Bjelica each scored 18 points for Serbia. 

The blowout victory in the championship game completed a World Cup where the Americans were never challenged. In fact, their closest winning margin in nine games was 21 points over Turkey in the group stage.

The entire 2014 FIBA World Cup was supposed to be all about a showdown between the United States and Spain in the championship game. France ruined that by shocking Spain in the quarterfinals, and then Serbia knocked out France in the semis.

The Americans would have none of the upset bug.

However, it was Serbia that jumped out to an early eight-point lead in the first quarter. Perhaps Team USA expected to simply roll over Serbia just by showing up, which would explain the slow start. Brian Mahoney of The Associated Press noted that the early deficit was uncharted territory for Mike Krzyzewski’s team:

Grantland’s Zach Lowe and Kurt Helin of Pro Basketball Talk described just how Serbia took an early lead:

Irving then decided to take matters into his own hands. The Cavaliers point guard scored 15 early points and started 6-of-8 from the field and 3-of-3 from behind the three-point line. NBA on ESPN and Duke Basketball gave him a shoutout:

Behind Irving’s efforts, the Americans seized a 35-21 lead after the first quarter.

Team USA extended its lead in the second quarter, but not without some concern. Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried both picked up three fouls in the first half, which meant it was DeMarcus Cousins‘ time to shine.

NBA on ESPN shared a highlight, while Nate Duncan of Basketball Insiders noted how critical Cousins’ defense was:

While the interior play was certainly impressive, it was the three-point shooting for the Americans that completely put the game away before halftime. In fact, Irving hit four treys, Harden connected on three from distance, Klay Thompson had two from long range and Rudy Gay and Stephen Curry each hit one.

In all, Team USA shot 11-of-16 from three-point range in the first half.

Duncan offered up some solid advice for Serbia:

Thanks to the barrage of perimeter shooting, Krzyzewski’s squad had an overwhelming 67-41 lead at the half.

Things didn’t look much different in the third quarter. The United States’ NBA superstars were hitting on all cylinders with their shots. It really wasn’t even a fair matchup on paper.

The Americans do deserve credit for coming out of the locker room with some intensity. Duncan suggested as much, while ESPN’s Marc Stein pointed out that the coaching staff was matching the energy: 

Things simply got out of hand for Serbia in the third quarter. The United States stretched its lead to more than 30 points midway through the third and eviscerated the Serbian defense. Zach Harper of CBS Sports thought Serbia should maybe change its defensive look:

While it was easy to criticize Serbia’s defense, ESPN commentator Fran Fraschilla told Bleacher Report before the game that Krzyzewski deserved plenty of credit: ”I’d be very surprised if Team USA, because of Coach K’s influence, takes their eyes off the prize. There’s less of a sense of entitlement among these NBA stars than there was eight or nine years ago. To beat this team, you have to play an A+ game.”

The only team playing an A+ game Sunday was the United States. It took a commanding 105-67 lead into the fourth quarter.

Harper summarized how many were feeling, while John Schumann of NBA.com pointed out just how ridiculous the Americans’ effort really was:

With the game well in hand, it was time to watch individual players. Duncan provided some encouraging news for Chicago Bulls fans:

However, Derrick Rose was among the few Americans who hadn’t cracked the scoreboard, as Sam Smith of Bulls.com pointed out:

Fortunately for the United States, plenty of players were stuffing the stat sheet. As NBA on ESPN noted, seven players were in double figures as the game entered its final minutes:

Thanks to a blistering shooting performance from the majority of the team, the fourth quarter was simply a formality. In fact, Serbia outscored Krzyzewski’s team 25-24 in the final frame, but Team USA still won the game by 37 points.

It was yet another dominating performance for Team USA, which hardly had to bat an eye on its way to gold.

 

What’s Next

While the Americans were clearly more impressive than any other team by a wide margin at the World Cup, some may view the triumph with hesitation because it didn’t come against Spain. 

Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated commented on that idea:

From an NBA perspective, this experience should prove beneficial for the superstars that played for Team USA. Players like Irving, Davis, Faried and Cousins, who were excellent for much of the tournament, will likely be more confident in their own abilities, while Derrick Rose’s knees passed an extended test.

The Chicago Sun-Times suggested as much during the game:

While NBA fans are certainly looking forward to that, Team USA has some time to revel in its World Cup title.

 

*All quotes obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.

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Lithuania vs. France: 2014 FIBA Bronze-Medal Game Score and Twitter Reaction

In what was unquestionably one of the most entertaining games of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, France defeated Lithuania 95-93 Saturday in Spain to secure the bronze medal. 

According to Eurohoops.net, it was a landmark victory for the French:

Lithuania received a huge effort from Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas, as he finished with 25 points and nine rebounds, but he was neutralized by the 27 points from Portland Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum for France.

While both Lithuania and France suffered disappointment in the semifinals by falling short of their ultimate goal, there was still plenty to play for in Saturday’s game.

Lithuania entered the matchup with hopes of equaling its third-place result from the 2010 FIBA World Cup. Conversely, France was making its first appearance in a medal game in this tournament since 1954.

Prior to the game, Batum made it clear that his squad was ready to put Friday’s semifinal loss to Serbia in the rear-view mirror, per FIBA.com.

“We have to win,” Batum said. “If we don’t find the motivation, there’s no point in competing in this sport. The final, that’s over with, we won’t play it. We can’t dwell on it and we need to move on to something else. Let’s carry on being conquerors.”

There was no love lost between these two sides as they met in the 2013 EuroBasket final in Slovenia, according to FIBA’s official Twitter account:

France won that game convincingly, so Lithuania figured to have a huge chip on its shoulder. The Lithuanians also had a bit of added pressure with national minister of foreign affairs Linas Linkevicius urging them to come away victorious:

It would have been easy for the French to come out flat after losing to Serbia by just five points on Friday, but they looked to be the hungrier team early on. France raced out to a 7-2 lead with all seven points being scored by center Joffrey Lauvergne.

Batum ultimately paced Les Bleus with eight points in the opening quarter, and they led 22-19 entering the second.

Much like the first quarter, the second frame was back-and-forth. The star players for both teams did much of the damage with Batum and Lauvergne excelling for France, while Valanciunas looked great offensively for Lithuania.

According to Eurohoops.net, France and Lithuania were particularly effective in terms of exploiting mismatches:

Lithuania gained some ground in the second quarter as it outscored France 23-21 and pulled to within one point at the break. Valanciunas finished the first half with 12 points to lead the Lithuanians, while the vast majority of France’s offense went through two players, per Euroleague Basketball on Twitter:

The tide started to turn even more in Lithuania’s favor at the start of the second half. Not only did the Lithuanians do a much better job on Batum and Lauvergne defensively, but they also started to heat up from beyond the arc on the offensive end.

In fact, consecutive three-point daggers from Adas Juskevicius and Houston Rockets forward Donatas Motiejunas put Lithuania on top just a few minutes into the quarter:

Although Batum started to find his range again as the quarter progressed, Lithuania’s lead continued to balloon. Valanciunas was the main reason for that, as he added six points in the third and helped Lithuania to a 71-64 lead with just one quarter left to play.

France simply had no answer for Valanciunas, which likely has Raptors fans quite excited for the upcoming NBA season. If Valanciunas’ play against the French is any indication, Bleacher Report’s Andy Bailey could see Toronto utilizing him to greater effect in 2014-15:

Just when it seemed like France was potentially down for the count, it mounted a comeback in the fourth quarter. The French grittiness was on full display as the slight underdogs chipped away at Lithuania’s advantage.

Batum led the way, but San Antonio Spurs forward Boris Diaw finally started to contribute in a big way as well. With less than five minutes remaining in the game, Diaw put France back on top 77-75.

Valanciunas refused to be denied, however, as he tied it at 77 with a thunderous dunk and then converted an old-fashioned three-point play to make it 80-77 Lithuania with about three minutes remaining on the clock.

A 5-0 run put France back on top 82-80, though, and it was punctuated by a Diaw layup with just a minute and a half left.

Diaw extended the lead to four with another basket, and guard Thomas Heurtel added a pair of free throws with 30 seconds left to give France a seemingly insurmountable 86-80 lead.

Closing out the game would prove difficult, though. Juskevicius hit two free throws and then pulled Lithuania to within one point with a bucket and the foul 16 seconds before the final horn. That came on the heels of Heurtel missing two key free throws.

Heurtel would atone for his misses with two makes on his ensuing trip to the line, giving France a three-point lead, per Sportnado:

The cat-and-mouse game continued with both teams trading successful spells at the charity stripe. France held a 90-89 lead with eight ticks remaining after Renaldas Seibutis converted two free throws.

A missed free throw by Batum left the door open a crack for Lithuania with four seconds left. Valanciunas made two free throws to make it 93-92 France. Batum made two free throws to extend the lead to three, and French forward Florent Pietrus smartly fouled Jonas Maciulis with one second left so he couldn’t attempt a three-pointer. The Lithuanian forward purposely missed his second free throw, but France grabbed the defensive rebound to come away with the win.

There is no question that both of these teams have a long way to go before reaching the United States’ level, but they have certainly proven capable of competing with the world’s best teams at the international level.

Lithuania has been among the elite teams in the world for quite some time, and this loss doesn’t change that. A second consecutive bronze in this tournament would have been a great result, but reaching the semis was a big deal nonetheless.

Les Bleus made it this far without Spurs point guard Tony Parker and Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah, so the sky is the limit. France also upset a full-strength Spanish team on its home court in the quarterfinals in addition to winning the bronze medal, so this tournament was most definitely a success.

Lithuania and France will now look ahead to the 2015 EuroBasket tournament as two 2016 Olympic berths will be on the line. A rematch of the 2013 final between them is a very real possibility, and it would be yet another chapter in what is quickly becoming one of the best rivalries in international basketball.

 

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France vs. Serbia: FIBA World Cup 2014 Semifinal Score and Twitter Reaction

Nicolas Batum did everything in his power to lead France to the FIBA World Cup final. In the end, though, Serbia was just too tough to overcome. 

Despite Batum‘s 35 points and France’s furious rally in the second half, the Serbians held on to secure a 90-85 win and advance to the final against the United States. Batum was a force of nature on offense and on fire from beyond the arc, draining eight of the 12 threes he attempted.

Sportando broke down Batum‘s performance:

Serbia may have won the game, but Batum was the man to watch. David Aldridge of Turner Sports certainly thought so:

He was also quick to congratulate the Serbian team after the win:

For Batum, it wasn’t enough. But man, was it fun to watch.

Still, the Serbians had their share of heroes. Milos Teodosic had 24 points with six other Serbian players finishing in double-digits. The Serbians also played one heck of a team game, tallying 19 assists.

Teodosic in particular is one to watch, per John Schuhmann of NBA.com:

After Teodosic‘s performance, Marc Stein of ESPN said what everyone else was thinking:

Meanwhile, the Phoenix Suns congratulated their draft pick, Bogdan Bogdanovic, who finished with 13 points and four assists:

Serbia’s road to get to the final certainly hasn’t been easy or without its speed bumps, per Chris Sheridan of Sheridan Hoops:

And despite the very obvious talent on the Serbian roster, they’ll be pretty big underdogs in the final against a United States team absolutely loaded with NBA talent. Even without LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and a host of other superstars, Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving and James Harden have lead an All-Star cast into the final. 

France, meanwhile, will face Lithuania in the bronze-medal game. The country is going to need a few more players other than just Batum to step it up in that contest. Boris Diaw (13 points, 10 rebounds), Thomas Heurtel (12 points, six assists) and Evan Fournier (10 points) played well, but it just wasn’t enough for the French.

If they want a medal, they’ll have to get their stars going a bit earlier than they did against Serbia.

 


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USA vs. Lithuania: FIBA World Cup 2014 Semifinal Score and Twitter Reaction

A day after co-favorite Spain was sent packing in one of the biggest upsets in recent international basketball history, the United States sent a loud and decisive statement that it would not share the same fate.

Kyrie Irving scored 18 points, and Klay Thompson and James Harden each scored 16 as the United States survived a barrage of early fouls and some shaky shooting to earn a 96-68 victory over Lithuania to advance to the FIBA World Cup final.

Starters Kenneth Faried, Harden and Stephen Curry each battled through frustrating foul trouble, especially in an up-and-down first half. The starting trio each picked up two fouls within the first four minutes, creating tension between coach Mike Krzyzewski and the officiating crew that lingered throughout the game.

However, the United States had enough firepower to push through.

Thompson scored 14 points in the first half, propping up a dreadful 9-of-35 effort from teammates that had the U.S. going into the halftime break ahead only 43-35. The Golden State Warriors star, who spent most of his summer as the subject of trade rumors, has been nothing short of spectacular in Spain. He’s averaged 17 points per game in elimination-round play while being one of Krzyzewski’s most reliable perimeter defenders.

Derrick Rose, meanwhile, continued to struggle with his shot. He missed his first seven field-goal attempts and accounted for half of Team USA’s six first-half turnovers. But Thompson, Rudy Gay and a feisty DeMarcus Cousins all did their part to hold the fort while a majority of the United States’ best players waited around on the bench.

That was particularly the case defensively, as Lithuania was not able to take advantage of its foul disparity. The Lithuanian starting lineup made only two field goals the entire half and shot 30.4 percent as a team, with NBAers Jonas Valanciunas and Donatas Motiejunas virtually invisible.

Valanciunas wound up with 15 points and seven rebounds, but his team nearly scored more points from free throws (32) than field goals (36).

Free from foul trouble (save for Curry), the U.S. entered the second half with a full lineup. It took roughly two minutes for the game to be put away for good.

The United States opened with a 10-0 run that eventually stretched to 18-2, holding Lithuania without a field goal for almost five minutes. Ratcheting up the defensive pressure and getting out in transition, the U.S. shot 14-of-19 for the quarter to make the fourth-quarter result academic.

In many ways, it mirrored how the U.S. has played the entire tournament: its first half littered with bone-headed plays, poor shooting and a preponderance of defensive miscues—its second half showcasing feats of excellence from some of the world’s best basketball players.

Irving missed six of his eight shots in the first half, struggling to adequately run the attack despite not being in foul trouble. He went 6-of-7 and added four assists in the final 20 minutes.

Same goes for Harden, who entered halftime without a point and left with 16. While his defense remains a weakness that might have come back to haunt the U.S. had it gone against Spain, Harden scored all of his points as the catalyst to the Americans’ third-quarter run. He has scored in double figures in seven of eight games thus far.

Faried largely made up for time lost in the first half despite shooting 3-of-8 from the field overall. He finished with nine points, six rebounds and three assists, continuing his trend of overwhelming opposing frontcourts with his athleticism and tenacity. The Denver Nuggets forward, who has garnered some level of tournament MVP buzz, says his focus remains intently on earning a gold medal.

“I’m not worried about that,” Faried said before the semifinals, per FIBA. “I’m just worried about getting the gold. I just want to win and go home with this gold medal on my neck.”

The most surprisingly quiet (albeit still effective) game of the evening went to Anthony Davis. Arguably ahead of Thompson and Faried in a theoretical tournament MVP race, Davis put up eight points and six rebounds and played limited minutes due to foul trouble. He fouled out with a little more than five minutes remaining, but not before Coach K got one more critical run in with his starters.

Despite holding a 27-point lead going into the fourth, Krzyzewski reinserted the starting five to get them back into a rhythm of playing together—almost like a practice within a live game. He had mostly avoided keeping starters in the game late in blowouts previously, but perhaps he wanted to get his guys re-acclimated to playing in fourth quarters.

Curry wound up getting into a bit of a rhythm late to score 13 points. Cousins, who fouled out late, had seven points and six rebounds.

The United States will play the winner of Friday’s other semifinal between France and Serbia.

The respective third- and fourth-ranked teams in Group A, the French and Serbians both sent messages of their own in the quarterfinals. Serbia overwhelmed a Brazil team expected to make the medal round, exhibiting top-notch defense and shooting brilliantly in an 84-56 win. France presented Lithuania with the blueprint of an upset, taking advantage of an obviously on-tilt Spain to pull away late for a shocker.

Which team ultimately goes head-to-head with the U.S. on Sunday is anyone’s guess. France defeated Serbia by one point in their group matchup, but Serbia came out ahead a year ago at Eurobasket.

“We’re confident in ourselves. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t know where the chips may fall, but we’re confident in each other. We’re confident in ourselves,” Faried said, per FIBA. “God willing, we will win the tournament and go home with a gold. But, if not, as long as we put our best effort forth and our best foot forth, then we got to live with the results.”

Odds are, the result will be favorable for the United States. Spain’s loss took out the only team capable of playing on its stratosphere. France is a fine team that deserves credit for pulling off Wednesday’s upset, but it came against a Spanish side that consistently shot itself in the foot and collapsed under the pressure of the home crowd. Serbia lost to all three of the top teams in Group A.

KC Johnson of the Chicago Tribune provides Faried’s thoughts on Spain’s loss:

Sunday should be more of the same for Team USA. It should be a blowout win over an inferior team. But Spain’s loss put everything in perspective; anything can happen in a one-and-done format. It’ll be interesting to see if the U.S. can avoid that fate.

 

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George apologizes for Twitter comments on Ray Rice (Yahoo Sports)

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 21: Paul George #24 of the Indiana Pacers handles the ball against Greivis Vasquez #21 of the New Orleans Hornets during the game between the Indiana Pacers and the New Orleans Hornets on February 21, 2012 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBA star Paul George got the message quickly Thursday. After tweeting that Ray Rice should be allowed to continue his NFL career and suggesting he was merely responding to being attacked, George backtracked Thursday, replacing his deleted comments with an apology to women and victims of domestic violence. Rice was released by the Baltimore Ravens on Monday and suspended indefinitely by the NFL after an elevator video showed Rice knocking out his then-fiancee with a punch to the face. George tweeted that although he didn’t condone hitting women, he believed Rice should to be allowed to play in the NFL.


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France vs. Spain: FIBA World Cup 2014 Quarterfinal Score and Twitter Reaction

Many said the 2014 FIBA World Cup wouldn’t even begin until a team gave the United States or Spain a scare. Well, apparently it’s time to start paying attention.    

Taking advantage of some uncharacteristically sloppy Spanish shooting and a surprisingly stellar evening on the boards, France pulled the biggest upset in recent international basketball history, holding on late for a 65-52 victory over Spain in their quarterfinals matchup.      

Boris Diaw scored 15 points and Thomas Heurtel added 13, but the real story was how the French defense made Spain look out of sorts. The home country shot just 32.3 percent from the floor, including a dreadful 2-of-22 from beyond the three-point arc.

“If we don’t elevate our defensive level, there’s no game,” France coach Vincent Collet said, per FIBA. “They’re too talented. When you play against a team better than you, your first goal is to slow them down. If you want to be better than them you’ll never win.”

Battling obvious fits of nervousness and distress, Spain watched as shot after shot clanged off the backboard. Pau Gasol scored 17 points and had eight rebounds, but the Spaniards got next to nothing from his co-stars. Ricky Rubio, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka combined to shoot 3-of-21 from the field, while Juan Carlos Navarro’s solid overall game floundered down the stretch.

Ahead by 43-42 heading into the fourth despite a miserable first three quarters, Spain missed 13 of its 16 shots in the final 10 minutes. Considered a near-lock for at least a finals berth against Team USA—Spain was one of a select few teams with a full roster and has made the last two Olympic gold-medal games—the veteran roster cracked under the weight of the pressure.

Players wildly gesticulated when calls didn’t go their way. They flew around the floor defensively, desperate to create turnovers. Bad, off-the-dribble shots piled up as Spain realized far too late going to Gasol was its only effective option. France, which itself shot below 40 percent and made just a quarter of its threes, outscored Spain 23-9 in the fourth quarter on the back of that sloppiness and desperation.

France joins now-uninhibited favorite United States, Lithuania and Serbia as the four finalists.

The French will take on Serbia on Friday, which itself pulled off a mild surprise earlier Wednesday. Behind 23 points from Milos Teodosic, the Serbians advanced with an 84-56 trouncing of Brazil. Brazil had previously beaten Serbia in group play—just as Spain had France. 

In the first matchup, the co-favorites dictated the pace throughout and dominated defensively en route to an 88-64 win. Five Spanish players scored in double figures, using their size and cohesive game plan to dissect a France team struggling to score without Tony Parker.

“Sometimes in the group phase match-ups, you don’t want to show everything because you might see those teams down the road and you still need to surprise them,” forward Rudy Fernandez said before the game, per FIBA. “I’m sure they (France) will bring new things to the table and we need to be ready for them.”

From the opening tipoff, it was clear whatever adjustments France made were working. 

France opened the game with an 11-2 run that left the Madrid crowd stunned, dropping a little inkling that an upset was far from out of the question. Boris Diaw seemed unseasonably hot from three-point range, bigs Joffrey Lauvergne and Rudy Gobert out-hustled the Gasol brothers for rebounds and the French defensive effort seemed more locked in than it has the entire tournament.

While Spain was able to come back with a run of its own to tie the game 15-15 after the first quarter, it never felt like a controlled effort. With open shots going off the rim and France using its own NBA talent to create more havoc than usual, Spain consistently failed to get into an offensive rhythm.

France retook the lead at the beginning of the second quarter and halted any extended Spanish run to go into the halftime break ahead 35-28. Gobert, who finished the game with five points and 13 rebounds, started the run with his only two baskets of the game. The Jazz center played a critical crunch-time role Wednesday after typically ceding the final moments to the more experienced Lauvergne.

The only significant signs of Spanish life came in the third quarter. No doubt embarrassed at their first-half effort, Spain dominated both ends of the floor after the break. It held France to only seven points against 15 of its own and finally seemed to be dictating the pace again. If one were to draw an analogy, it felt like the United States turning on its jets after a sloppy 20 minutes the way it has so many times in this tournament.

Only it wasn’t meant to be. 

France again struck the first blow in the fourth and never trailed after the eight-minute mark of the quarter. What will ultimately go down as one of the biggest wins in French basketball history will also be perhaps the biggest loss ever for Spain.

Playing before a wildly supportive home crowd and with a majority of its Olympic roster, many viewed the World Cup as Spain’s opportunity to finally get over the U.S. hump. Instead, it leaves with disappointment and a bitter two-year wait before it’ll have an international stage large enough to atone for Wednesday’s loss.

 

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Slovenia vs. USA: FIBA World Cup 2014 Quarterfinal Score and Twitter Reaction

Featuring All-NBA guard Goran Dragic and coming off a double-digit win over the Dominican Republic, the United States knew Slovenia would be its toughest FIBA World Cup test yet.    

It didn’t matter.

Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis each had double-doubles, and Klay Thompson scored 20 points as the United States pounded the boards and hustled its way to a 119-76 victory over Slovenia in the quarterfinals despite an up-and-down shooting night.

Slovenia proved at times a much tougher out than on Aug. 26, when the United States pummeled the small but burgeoning basketball squad by 30 points in an exhibition. Like two weeks ago, the United States’ effort was led by Faried and Davis, who have emerged as the most formidable frontcourt in the tournament this side of Spain.

Crashing to the rim and using its length and athleticism to its advantage, the U.S. starting frontcourt combined for 10 of the team’s 24 offensive rebounds. The boards helped the United States outshoot Slovenia 92-66, atoning for a bunch of missed open shots in the first half. 

Struggling from distance and close to the basket, the United States made just 36.2 percent of its shots and went 3-of-10 from three-point range to go into the break ahead 49-42. Starting wings James Harden and Stephen Curry went a combined 0-of-12 in the first 20 minutes, with the latter picking up three fouls before the end of the first quarter.

Curry (six points) and Harden (14 points) were slightly better in the second half, as the U.S. wound up shooting its way back up to the 50 percent mark. Still, the United States offense was far more effective when the bench duo of Thompson and Derrick Rose entered, a promising sign for those worried about Rose’s difficulties in returning to form. The Chicago Bulls star, who was shooting 21.6 percent coming into Tuesday, scored 12 points and was Team USA’s best defender on Dragic.

“I think I found it now,” Rose told ESPN.com’s Marc Stein of his jump shot. “Just changed one little thing.”

ESPN.com’s Ethan Strauss believed this to be Rose’s best outing of the tournament:

Consistency has yet to find the guard rotation seven games into the tournament. On Saturday, Curry was knocking down six threes against Mexico. On Tuesday, his defensive laziness contributed to his foul trouble, and he couldn’t knock down a shot. Kyrie Irving, Harden and Rose have all had wild fluctuations in play on a game-to-game basis.

Thompson, who has impressed with his defensive effort in Spain, has been the closest thing to a constant on the wing. His game-high 20 points came on 7-of-12 shooting. 

For the most part, it’s been up to Davis and Faried to carry the load, and they’ve yet to disappoint. Faried’s infectious hustle and crashing of the boards helped hold things together in the first half, as he scored 12 of his 14 points. Davis, long-armed and constantly intimidating near the basket, added three blocks to go with his 13 points and 11 boards. He’s headed for a no-brainer MVP selection if the United States wins the gold medal.

CBS Sports’ Doug Gottlieb and Pro Basketball Talk’s Kurt Helin complimented the Team USA frontcourt:

As has been the case for much of the tournament, Davis and Faried sat out most of the second half once the United States opened a large enough lead.

The U.S. looked like a completely different team in outscoring Slovenia 70-34 in the third and fourth quarters. Shots from close and far fell. Generating turnovers became so easy, they were almost routine. Dragic, one of the best guards in basketball, fell apart for a 6-of-15 evening. 

Slovenia’s inability to get into a rhythm beyond the arc was as uncharacteristic as it was a credit to the United States coaching staff. Coming into the game shooting an above-average clip on 26.2 attempts per game, Slovenia began 2-of-12 from three before finishing at 29.6 percent. 

In head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s meeting with reporters preparing for Tuesday’s game, he indicated the team would defend the perimeter aggressively, according to Sam Amick of USA Today:

We just have to focus on the fact that they’re an unusual team and that at times they can put five three-point shooters out on the court. They’re unusually good in that they have one of the great guards in the world in Goran Dragic, and his brother is outstanding too and with (shooting guard Domen) Lorbek, those three guys on the perimeter provide probably, outside of Spain, the most experienced perimeter that you have in the tournament. They have great spacing. They share the ball. Half their shots are threes. They’re going to be a tough team to defend. We think they’re one of the best teams.

For the most part, that’s exactly what it did. The U.S. closed out hard on dangerous shooters, disrupting shot rhythms with length and forcing difficult looks. Slovenia actually had a ton of success using shot fakes to create deep open twos or crash hard into the paint.

But some of the misses were just plain bad luck. At times, sloppy rotations from the United States gave Slovenia open looks; it just didn’t knock them down. Goran and Zoran Dragic, the stars of the team and solid shooters in their own right, went a combined 3-of-11 from distance.

With the margin for error decidedly thin, this was the worst possible time for Slovenia to go cold from three-point range. The United States has the depth, athleticism and talent to overcome shaky shooting. Any hope Slovenia had of shocking the world and advancing came only in a scenario in which it was lights out from the field.

That didn’t happen when the game was in reach, and its shot-making fell apart as the favorites turned the game into a blowout.  

The United States will face familiar foe Lithuania in the semifinals Thursday. Lithuania, which came into the World Cup ranked fourth in the world, earned a final four berth with a 73-61 victory over Turkey. The Lithuanians feature NBAers Jonas Valanciunas and Donatas Motiejunas. One of the most experienced teams in the world, Lithuania has a long history of narrowly missing out on upsets of the world power.

It’ll no doubt be interesting to see which version of the U.S. shows up. Krzyzewski knows the history between the two countries and will no doubt try to use it as motivation for the players.

But the result is very likely academic. Lithuania defeated Slovenia only by three points in their group-stage matchup and did so only due to a historic offensive collapse from the Slovenians. There is also no sign of Sarunas Jasikevicius, the retired Lithuanian star who still haunts many Americans’ dreams.

The only true test will come in a likely final against Spain, which has a good deal of its 2012 Olympic roster and has an entire country at its side. Entire halves like the one the United States played Tuesday won’t fly against Spain; it’s too good. Take it from Dragic, per Amick: 

With only one more tune-up game remaining before Sunday’s finale, Coach K has a lot of work to do to get this group ready. Let’s see if he can pull it off.

 

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Lithuania vs. Turkey: FIBA World Cup 2014 Quarterfinal Score, Twitter Reaction

Lithuania played its way into the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup semifinals by defeating Turkey 73-61.

Four players were in double figures for the winners, including a game-high 19 points for Renaldas Seibutis. Martynas Pocius and Darjus Lavrinovic combined for six three-pointers off the bench. 

As a team, Lithuania went 10-of-19 from three-point range. Another important factor was the battle of NBA centers, as Jonas Valanciunas (12 points, 13 rebounds) matched the play of Turkey’s Omer Asik (11 points, 10 rebounds).     

Lithuania head coach Jonas Kazlauskas discussed Valanciunas‘ value after the team’s previous win over New Zealand, telling reporters, “Jonas played really well and that’s what we expected. He has gotten stronger and has more experience. Now he respects his opponents even more and knows the price of every game.”

With the Toronto Raptors star holding down the low post and his teammates coming through with big games offensively, this team can keep winning. ESPN’s Marc Stein provided his thoughts on the tournament to this point:

Turkey seemed ready to pull away in this contest early with a strong opening quarter by Asik, as Jim Eichenhofer of Pelicans.com points out:

However, Eurohoops.net explained why Turkey’s advantage was only five points:

Thanks to a 20-10 advantage in the second quarter, Lithuania had the lead at halftime. Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun described the back-and-forth play of the first 20 minutes:

Neither side pulled away in the third quarter, as Turkey went on a 12-0 run to regain the lead. During the run, its defense picked up and its guards were able to get the ball inside for easier baskets.

But Lithuania took back the lead with its outside shooting, as Brenton Vannisselroy of Radio Sport explained:

In the fourth quarter, Lithuania clearly looked like the better team on both ends of the floor. The squad made big shots, including three from Jonas Maciulis after a relatively quiet game until then. Lithuania took a 13-point lead with 3:17 to go and never looked back. 

Things will likely get much tougher in the next match, however. Lithuania will play the winner of the United States and Slovenia, and all signs point to the Americans being there in the semifinals.

Turkey gave Team USA a tough battle the first time out, leading at halftime before losing 98-77, which bodes well for Lithuania staying in its potential semifinals clash with the tournament favorites. Of course, there is a big difference between keeping the score close and actually winning.

Still, it would be foolish to overlook Lithuania. At the very least, it’ll have a great chance at a third-place finish.

 

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