It was a tale of two games in the FIBA World Championship semi-final matchups on Saturday. The United States scored a relatively easy victory over the team from Lithuania to advance to their first World Championship final since 1994. On the other side of the bracket, the hometown Turks edged out Serbia in the most dramatic of games for an opportunity to play for their first gold medal. Saturday’s results set up what some reporters are calling the biggest sporting event in the history of Turkey.
The simple way to explain the United States victory would be by naming one man – Kevin Durant. Lithuania couldn’t find an answer for Durant, as he scored a United States record 38 points, lifting the U.S. to an 89-74 victory. The defense of Andre Iguodala was another huge factor, leading the charge in holding Lithuania’s Linas Kleiza to 1-of-11 shooting. Also key for the U.S. were Lamar Odom, who posted a double-double, and the scrappy Russell Westbrook. For the second straight game, the quickness and explosiveness of Westbrook disrupted guard play on the other side. However, all signs point back to Durant, who had a dagger anytime Lithuania looked like they wanted to get themselves back into the game.
For Turkey, they probably couldn’t have drawn up a more storybook ending to their semi-final matchup with Serbia. After trailing Serbia for the better part of three quarters, things looked like they were heading downhill for the Turks in the fourth quarter. Serbia held as much as an eight-point lead in the fourth, when Milos Teodosic connected on a three-pointer with 5:38 left to play.
However, Turkey would go on a 12-3 run in the next two minutes to find themselves ahead by a point at the 3:30 mark. A few intense possessions were exchanged between the teams, and what appeared to be the game winner came when Serbia’s Novica Velickovic converted a layup to give his team an 82-81 lead with just four second left to play. Turkey then called a time out, which advanced the ball to midcourt. Out of the time out, what looked like a blown defensive assignment allowed Hedo Turkoglu to find Kerem Tunceri with a bounce pass for a game-winning layup with just .5 second left to play. Serbia’s buzzer-beater attempt was denied by a Semih Erden block. Turkey had pulled off a miracle to advance to the gold medal game in front of their fans.
These two victories pair the United States and Turkey together for a clash in what is sure to be a raucous environment. A team filled with young and inexperienced players, the U.S. will have to overcome a spirited effort from an undefeated Turkish team that does not want to disappoint their fans.
The key to gold for the United States: Kevin Durant. As great as Durant has been, we sometimes forget that he’s just 21 years old. Will the big playoff atmosphere experienced in the series against the Lakers earlier this year help him block out the jeers from this crowd?
The key to gold for Turkey: Utilizing their distinct size advantage. To this point, the Americans have effectively dealt with their lack of size by getting big play from Lamar Odom and Kevin Love. However, at times, Turkey will put four guys on the floor that are 6-foot-10 or taller. Can that style stump Coach K and the “B-Team?”
Find out when the United States takes on Turkey at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
images via Yahoo