The U.S. looks vulnerable on paper at the FIBA World Cup. Turkey proved it on the court on Tuesday, nearly handing the Americans their first loss at a major tournament since 2006 to end a 44-game win streak at the Olympics and worlds.
The U.S. eked out a 93-92 win in overtime in Shanghai, its closest at a major tournament since its last loss in the 2006 World semifinals to Greece.
“The team that we played tonight, again, shows its experience and the improvement that we have to make,” U.S. head coach Gregg Popovich said. “We’ve known for a long time how big basketball has become in China, of course, but all over the world.”
Turkey led 92-91 when it missed four straight free throws with nine seconds left in OT. A full box score is here.
Khris Middleton, one of two 2019 NBA All-Stars on a superstar-less U.S. roster, made two free throws with two seconds left before Milwaukee Bucks teammate Ersan Ilyasova missed a contested three-pointer as time expired that would have sent shockwaves across international basketball.
“The game was in our hands, not their hands,” said Furkan Korkmaz, a Philadelphia 76ers swingman and one of three NBA players on the Turkish roster.
Turkey is a decent opponent, the 2010 World silver medalist ranked No. 17, but tougher nations are believed to be coming in the knockout rounds.
“We didn’t play to our expectations,” Middleton said.
Much has been made about this U.S. roster lacking NBA superstars — it has one Olympian (Harrison Barnes) and two 2019 NBA All-Stars (Kemba Walker, Middleton). Many potential Tokyo Olympians opted out of suiting up for Team USA this summer — even with highly respected Gregg Popovich making his U.S. head coaching debut — a common occurrence in World Cup years.
Ten days ago, a 78-game win streak when including exhibitions with NBA players was snapped in a pre-World Cup loss to Australia.
The U.S. didn’t trail against Turkey until the final minute of regulation. With 12 seconds left, Jayson Tatum was fouled while attempting a go-ahead three-pointer. Tatum made two of three free throws to force OT.
The U.S., which beat the Czech Republic 88-67 in its opener on Sunday, finishes group play against Japan, lowest-ranked of the four-team group, on Thursday.
Also Tuesday, Canada was eliminated after losses to Australia (108-92) and Lithuania (92-69). That means the Canadians, seeking their first Olympic men’s basketball berth since 2000, will likely vie for one of the final four Olympic spots at a last-chance qualifying tournament next year.
Canada might have the most NBA options of any nation outside the U.S., but Andrew Wiggins, RJ Barrett, Jamal Murray and Tristan Thompson were all absent from the World Cup roster.
The top two nations at the World Cup from North and South America qualify for the Olympics.
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