Another slow start, another eventual blowout win for Team USA. The Americans trailed after the first quarter against Ukraine on Thursday, but rallied over the next three quarters to complete an easy 95-71 win in the final contest of the group stage.
The victory ensures that USA is the top team in Group C and will earn an opening matchup against Mexico in the opening game of the elimination stage. It also continues a trend of poor starts for the team, but for now that narrative is being overshadowed by the team's regular second-half dominance.
There was a brief scare late in the game, however, as guard Kyrie Irving went down with an apparent hip injury in the game's closing seconds. He could be seen walking gingerly to the locker room with a trainer before the buzzer sounded. (GIF via @BenGolliver).
Luckily, the Cavaliers star said after the game that he's alright, so it appears Team USA and Cleveland avoided a major injury in this one.
Im all good everybody, just a tough fall. Appreciate the concern #ontobarcelona— Kyrie Irving (@KyrieIrving) September 4, 2014
What we learned
USA's backcourt depth could be tested
The frontcourt was supposed to be USA's biggest problem during the tournament, but a potentially limited Irving and Rose's inconsistent play could put some pressure on the team's guards going forward. Stephen Curry has established himself as one of the leaders of the 2014 group, but they'll need guys like Rose, Klay Thompson and DeMar DeRozan to step up if Irving's injury limits him at all going forward.
Offense is polishing up, slowly but surely
Turnovers have been one of the consistent issues for USA's stacked offense in the tournament, but they committed just nine in 40 minutes against Ukraine on Thursday. That's an improvement from prior games in the group stage, including a sloppy 19 turnovers in the 59-point win over Finland. Easy baskets have generally not been an issue for the team, so limiting wasted possessions will pretty much turn the unit into an undeniable juggernaut.
Slow starts are a habit, but not necessarily a problem
The Americans keep starting slow, and that was the case again Thursday as Ukraine led following the first period. Team USA quickly righted the ship from there in another blowout victory, but it's hard not to ignore the trend of poor-to-mediocre starts in practically every game of the tournament. It's not a problem when the team is finding its rhythm in the second half, but tougher opponents may stifle that a bit.
Play of the Game
Kenneth Faried is one of the star players of Team USA this year, straight up. Never would have guessed it, but the guy has been a force throughout the tournament.
Player of the Game
Faried continues to set the tone for Team USA, and his 10-point, eight-rebound, two-block performance on Thursday was a strong example of what he brings to the table. While other guys scored more, including James Harden (17 points) and Stephen Curry (14 points), Faried's two-way play has really enabled those other guys to focus on getting buckets. The Nuggets forward has also been extremely efficient as a scorer, too, going 5-of-6 from the field with zero turnovers against Ukraine.