After cruising through the group stages and elimination rounds, the United States looks to defend its FIBA World Cup crown Sunday. Led by guard James Harden’s second-half scoring outburst, the U.S. torched Lithuania for a 96-68 victory in the semifinals and their first back-to-back appearance in the championship game.
The U.S. will face Serbia, who held off France on Friday in Seville, 90-85. Milos Teodosic scored 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting to lead Serbia to the title game. Serbia owned a 16-point lead in the third quarter, but had to hold off a late surge by France. At one point, France trailed by just two points with under 20 seconds remaining.
Even with superstars LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony sitting the tournament out in preparation of the next NBA season, head coach Mike Krzyzewski and the U.S. haven’t lacked for scoring options. They’ve trounced opponents by an average of 32.5 points, and scored 101.5 points per game, nearly 20 points better than the next closest country.
The team has meshed very well and grown throughout the tournament, and has shown a propensity to share the ball and glory. Six players are averaging more than 10 points a game with Harden leading the squad with 13.1 points, besting Anthony Davis by a tenth of a point. Harden’s also been as one of the team’s top facilitators with 27 assists, one ahead of Stephen Curry and one behind Kyrie Irving.
By and large Davis has stood out the most during the tournament, complementing his scoring with 6.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. Denver Nuggets bouncy forward Kenneth Faried has also taken his game to another level, leading the team with 7.9 rebounds to go with 12.5 points.
With Davis protecting the rim and Faried controlling the glass, the U.S. defense has been nearly impenetrable. They’ve held opponents to 69 points a game and 38.4 percent shooting from the field.
The U.S. has also stretched defenses with accurate long-range shooting, knocking down 38.5 percent of their three-pointers. Golden State Warriors backcourt mates Curry and Klay Thompson, and forward Rudy Gay and Irving hitting better than 40 percent from deep.
Even with the U.S. humming on both sides of the ball, their next matchup isn’t one they, and everyone else wanted. During training and just before the tournament, a final featuring the last two champions, host-nation Spain and the U.S., was seen as a foregone conclusion. Many felt Krzyzewski kept young big men Davis, Andre Drummond and DeMarcus Cousins on the roster so the U.S. could take on Spain’s frontline of brothers Pau and Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka.
But Spain shot a dismal 32.3 percent from the floor, including 2-for-22 from deep, and stunningly fell to France in the quarterfinals 65-52.
Now the U.S. will face the balanced offensive attack of Serbia. The Serbs have put up 80.1 points per game, with 7-foot center Miroslav Raduljica totaling 13.9 points and Teodosic shooting better than 50 percent from the field while dishing out a team-best 30 assists. Serbia also has some extra size on the bench in former NBA center Nenad Krstic lurking as a reserve. Krstic scored 11 points against France.
Time: Sunday, 3 p.m. EST
TV Channel: ESPN2
Live Stream Info: A live online stream will be available at Watch ESPN here.