ISTANBUL – Game 1 is in the books. After a bit of a slow start, the U.S. took care of business, handing Croatia a 28-point loss. Here’s the post-game analysis, focusing on the 50-15 run that started when Croatia took its only lead of the night.
Interior defense continues to be an issue. And it would help if Tyson Chandler could defend without fouling. He’s now picked up four fouls in each of the last three games. That’s 12 fouls in less than 29 minutes of playing time, or about 17 fouls per 40 minutes.
He told me Friday that foul trouble isn’t much of a concern because he’s not playing big minutes anyway, but he’s still giving guys free trips to the line and allowing the opponent to get in the bonus that much earlier.
The big run allowed Mike Krzyzewski to empty the bench early in the third quarter. And when you have to play three straight days, it helps when nobody has to play more than 22 minutes on Day 1.
Early in the second quarter, Kevin Durant followed a filthy dunk (plus one) with a shake-and-bake step-back jumper, and I thought he was going to go into takeover mode right there. But it wasn’t needed. Durant led the U.S. with 11 field goal attempts, but every guy took at least two shots, and only Chandler took less than four.
The shocker of the day came in Group D, where France beat Spain in Izmir, 72-66. This looked like the weakest group in the competition, and the assumption was that Spain would go 5-0, putting them on the same side of the medal-round bracket as the U.S. should the Americans win Group B.
If Spain finishes second, now a possibility, they would be on the opposite side of the bracket, with the winners of Groups A and C, possibly facing Argentina in the quarterfinals.
The question is: Is there another team in Group D that can go 5-0? Lithuania is the most likely candidate, but they’re still not as good as Spain. So that will be an interesting matchup when those two teams meet on Tuesday. And if Spain wins, they would still win the group (assuming that France doesn’t go 4-1 too).
That was the only real upset of the day, but a couple of other teams came close to pulling one off.
China put a scare into Greece, led early in the fourth quarter, and had a chance to go ahead again with less than three minutes to go, but Greece stopped them on five straight possessions to hold on for the win.
Yi Jianlian led China with 26 points, but also a costly turnover down the stretch.
The other near-upset came in Group A, where Jordan led Australia by as many as 11 and was up five with just over a minute left. Australia scored six straight points down the stretch to take the lead and on Jordan’s final possession, Zaid Abbaas missed a bunny of a tip-in before time expired. Australia’s win keeps them in position to finish second or third in the group and likely avoid a matchup with the U.S. in the round of 16.
Two games on Saturday could really have an impact on the final standings. In Group C, Russia beat Puerto Rico, putting them in the driver’s seat to finish third behind Greece and Turkey. And in Group D, Lebanon beat Canada, really hurting the Canadians’ chances to advance to the medal rounds.
Next up for the U.S. is Slovenia on Sunday (9:30 a.m. ET, ESPN2). It took a while for Slovenia to separate themselves from Tunisia today, but a big third quarter put the game away.
Game time is 4:30 p.m. locally, so it will be interesting to see how much energy the U.S. has in the first few minutes. In their two afternoon exhibition games, they got off to slow starts (at least offensively) against China and France.
On Friday, I caught up with former Rocket/Hornet/Net and class act Boki Nachbar. Here’s his take on his Slovenian team.
“We’ve gradually been getting better as a team the last five or six years. This year, we have some key players missing. We probably have three or four players from the starting five missing. We’re not at full strength compared to last year at the European Championship, when I thought we had a stronger team, at least on paper.”
That team finished fourth at Eurobasket last year and lost by just one point to Greece in the bronze medal game (Nachbar missed a half-court runner at the buzzer). The key component that they’re missing this year is 6-11 center Erazem Lorbek, who led the ’09 team with 16.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per contest.
More Boki: “But as always we’re going to have great fan support. A lot of fans will come from Slovenia, because it’s a short flight. So in a way, we feel like we’re playing at home.”
No kidding. I arrived at the arena for the start of the Slovenia-Tunisia game, and while the building was only half full, 95 percent of that half was dressed in green. And those Slovenians were loud. This will be an away game for the U.S.
Boki, part III: “We want to make our best results so far, as far as the World Championship. We’ve never made the top eight before as a national team, so for us to make the top eight would be a good accomplishment. After that, we’ll see what happens.”
Also missing is from this squad is Beno Udrih (though he didn’t play last year), who quit the team last month because he wasn’t happy with his role. But with Jaka Lakovic and the Suns’ Goran Dragic, Slovenia is still strong at the point guard position.
Lakovic shot 28-for-61 (46 percent) from 3-point range at Eurobasket last year, so the U.S. point guards can’t leave him open. Dragic, we know, likes to make plays off the dribble.
Andre Iguodala will likely get the assignment of guarding Nachbar, Slovenia’s best scorer on the wing who shot 4-for-7 from 3-point range against Tunisia. And keep an eye for Miha Zupan off the bench. He’s the Slovenian Brian Scalabrine.
Question for any Slovenians out there: Why does the team wear green if the Slovenian flag is white, blue and red? E-mail me.
Turkish lesson of the day: Bu bey/bu hanım, her şeyi ödeyecek = This gentleman/lady will pay for everything.