Remarkably enough, Turkey was leading this game by five at the half. No tricks, no gimmicks.
How did it happen? Well, Turkey is a team full of players that know how to fill specific roles. None of them are used to being the star of their team, so none of them every try to step outside of what they can do. In other words, they know exactly what they're capable of doing against players that might be more skilled than them, because it's what they're used to.
Still, that alone didn't push Turkey to a competitive result. Coach Ataman and his crew did an excellent job of preparing for this game. In the post game press conference, Turkey was quick to lay out their blueprint with pride. "My strategy was to confuse them until the last 5 minutes", Ataman said. He did this by constantly switching on defense and protecting the paint. Ataman talked about how he studied a lot of film before the game, and said that every single play Team USA ran started off with a foray into the paint, whether that be via an isolation or a pick and roll. The switching made it more difficult for Team USA to get any movement going, and they were stuck shooting a ton of jumpers.
Coach K acknowledged as such in his post-game presser, and made a marked change of strategy in the third quarter. Team USA didn't take a single three until there was 3:27 remaining in the quarter, but had heaps of success taking the ball to the hole.
The other major adjustment made by Team USA had to do with the tempo. Again, Turkey was very explicit about their intentions in the post game-presser. "We wanted to slow down the pace of the game and play half-court offense against them", guard Sinan Guler said. Team USA responded by having their bigs, Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis, commit more energy to getting down the floor. Both were ridiculously important in the third. Faried would chip in 10 points, 3 steals, 2 offensive boards, 2 defensive boards, and a block during that time. Davis would finish the third with 11 points, 2 offensive boards, and 1 block. By the way, they combined for only three total missed shots and committed no turnovers during that time.
Ultimately, though, Team USA's main strength lies in their ability to win possession and gain quick points. They forced Turkey into a whopping 28 turnovers, and that was also key in pushing the pace. It's also an area of key weakness for Turkey, as they had more turnovers than assists in their previous game against New Zealand. Turkey simply doesn't have a significant scoring threat on the perimeter outside of Preldzic, so opponents don't respect their point guards enough to let them draw pressure. Also, Turkey had to rely on their bigs to hold the ball outside of the post at times, and that can be extremely dangerous against Team USA.
There was something else that I found very interesting about Turkey's strategy. Here's their shot charts from the first half and the third quarter, respectively. (Click image to enlarge.)
As you can tell, Turkey was using a TON of pick and roll in the first half. And they took virtually no shots from the wings. This is extremely puzzling, and possibly another underrated aspect of Coach Ataman's strategy. Statistically, the corner three is the most efficient shot you can take, so most teams use it early and often. Then, when Turkey started to struggle in the third, they made a marked shift toward kicking it to the wings, and rattled off five easy threes.
- Coach Ataman of Turkey was not happy with the officiating. "A lot of hand checking, a lot of contact, a lot of traveling. If we play in the USA, we should play by their rules. I think that the [FIBA] referees should play by FIBA rules. ... We can't win the game, but I think they got a lot of advantage because of this. I want to play in the semi-finals with the US in this tournament, so I think the refs should take a look at this."
- Coach K, on the other hand, insisted that the officials were fine.
- A lot of the threes Team USA took early on seemed to be good attempts. On another day, I think this game could have been over as quickly as the Finland game was.
- Speaking of the Finland game, I felt like Team USA took a bit too long to leave that type of mindset. Finland was playing so frenetically last night that it didn't take much for Team USA to get off an easy shot. Usually, no more than one pass was necessary. So to see a team that was so set on keeping in front of the US players was a huge contrast.
- Coach Ataman, on his use of Asik: "Omer has some physical condition problems. He gets too tired too early. I use him more often on the pick and roll. Strategically, Team USA has power inside player. For this reason we didn't play much inside game (he's referring to post-ups). In the future we'll use him [Asik] more. Yesterday he didn't make a good game, Savas was better. So we used more of Savas tonight."
- Coach K, on whether his starters would get more minutes in important games: "It's not a pre-game thing that we plan. You go with the guys that are playing well ... Our starters turned it on, they got more minutes. We used a timeout to give them rest."
- Coach Ataman, on what this game means to him: "To coach against Coach K is my dream. I think tonight our technical staff showed good stuff."
- Stephen Curry started off the game extremely cold from three, but did a great job of settling into a role afterwards and finding other ways to affect the action. 5 steals is nothing to sneeze at.
- Kyrie Irving's floater was absolutely invaluable tonight. Turkey's bigs can be plodding sometimes, so the shot was almost always available. I'm ready for him to go off against Ukraine's statues on Thursday.
- Kerem Tunceri wasted a defensive possession by yakking at the ref, giving AD a wide open jumper. And AD missed it. Just another funny moment.
- Emir Preldzic could find his way into the NBA someday. His rights are owned by the Mavericks, and he's improving every year for Fenerbache. Really slick passer off the pick and roll, and very consistent from three.
- Turkey's players were so, so good about making passes
- DeMarcus Cousins airballed a jumper during the second quarter. He followed it up with a relatively strong performance, but Mason Plumlee came in ahead of him during the second half. I'm willing to bet it was a pace decision though, since Plumlee is more mobile.
- Kenneth Faried was the only Team USA player to get cheers from the mostly Turkish-Finnish-Spanish crowd.
- Speaking of cheers, Team USA was booed heavily for dribbling out a few of the last possessions. These fans can be ruthless sometimes!
- Anthony Davis is still pretty unreal.