After one quarter of play in Saturday’s FIBA opener between the United States and Croatia, the Americans held on to just a 22-20 lead. That uneasy feeling of disappointing FIBA performances past started to surface. However, before those feelings could linger, the second quarter happened. Sparked by a 26-6 run in the second frame, Team USA coasted to a 106-78 victory.
The American men blew the game open in the second quarter when a Kevin Durant three-point play started a 12-0 run that pushed the lead to 14 points. Sharpshooter Eric Gordon caught fire, knocking down consecutive triples, while forward Rudy Gay added a three of his own and a free throw to give the United States a 48-26 lead at the half. The U.S. run wasn’t all about offense, as they harassed the Croatian team into 3-of-17 shooting for the quarter, including 0-for-6 from three-point territory. The second quarter run set the tone for the rest of the evening.
Croatia came out a little more efficient in the third quarter, but was overwhelmed by an American offense that realized the game was in the bag. Team USA added another 30 points, including five points each from Billups, Durant and Andre Iguodala. Croatia held a 30-28 scoring advantage in the final period, but the Americans were in full cruise-control mode at that point.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski was able to play all 12 of his guys, giving the starters plenty of rest for the upcoming schedule. Each player on the roster was able to log at least 10 minutes and score in the process. Gordon led the team with 16 points in 22 minutes, while Durant scored 14 points of his own. Big man Kevin Love added seven points and 10 rebounds in just 13 minutes of action.
There is still a lot of basketball left to be played for Team USA, but they have to be pleased with this start. While they were favored to handle the Croatians, the early dominance was somewhat unexpected. As several members of the coaching staff and team stated, they have to maintain that second-quarter level of intensity throughout the tournament if they want to bring the FIBA Gold Medal back to the United States.
Play will resume today at 9:30 a.m. EST against Slovenia.