#Spain2014 Championship Roundup & Reflections

Not surprisingly, Team USA dominated anew in the recently-concluded 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain. The Americans were just too good, sweeping the competition in the quarterfinals, semifinals, and in the championship game. Serbia and France, meanwhile, turned a lot of heads by playing beyond expectations and knocking off some strong rivals.

Team USA, Serbia, and France finished atop the heap in #Spain2014.

Game recaps (adapted from FIBA.com):
Darjus Lavrinovic pumped energy into the Lithuanian engine powering the Baltic nation to a big win over Turkey at Palau Sant Jordi. The win marked Lithuania's second consecutive trip to the semifinals of FIBA's flagship event. Lithuania, who now await the winners of the Slovenia-USA Quarter-Final, made 10 of its 19 three-pointer attempts. Turkey raced out to an 18-10 lead after the opening period before Lithuania found their bearings in the second, thanks to the sharp-shooting brilliance of Lavrinovic. The 7’0 big man made all three of his three-pointers in the first five minutes of the second quarter, the last of which put Lithuania up 24-23 for their first lead of the game since Jonas Valanciunas had scored the opening basket.

Renaldas Seibutis led Lithuania's scoring with 19 points and Martynas Pocius added 13. Valanciunas pulled down 13 rebounds to go with his 12 points. Omer Asik, who played braving a flu, led Turkey with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Emir Preldzic, the hero of Turkey's campaign, accounted for 10 points.

USA over SLOVENIA, 119-76
The reigning world champions USA tightened the screws in the third quarter to leave Slovenia behind and take a comfortable win in the quarterfinals. They extended their unbeaten run in the competition to seven games and set up a semifinal clash against Lithuania, a team they faced four years ago at the same stage of the competition. The USA needed almost two minutes to score its first field goal, which came by way of Kenneth Faried. The Denver Nuggets power forward, the team's second leading scorer behind Anthony Davis, went on to finish with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Klay Thompson finished with a game-high 20 points, while Davis had a double-double of his own, with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Goran and Zoran Draigc combined for 24 points and Domen Lorbek had a dozen for the Balkan side.

FRANCE over SPAIN, 65-52
France created a seismic shock in the World Cup booting tournament hosts Spain out of the tournament. Vincent Collet’s team prevailed after improbably outrebounding the Spaniards, 50-28. Two of Les Bleus' rising stars, Rudy Gobert and Joffrey Lauvergne, dominated the boards. Utah Jazz big man Gobert had 13 rebounds to go with his five points and Lauvergne had 10 to go with his four markers. Thomas Heurtel, who plays his club basketball in Spain with Laboral Kuxta, had 13 points and four assists for the winners. Spain, who went up against a determined French defense all night, endured an almighty struggle with their shooting. They were two of 22 from behind the arc and 20 of 62 on the evening. Boris Diaw, an NBA champion with the San Antonio Spurs last season, led the French with 15 points and five rebounds.

SERBIA over BRAZIL, 84-56
Serbia tore apart Brazil in the third quarter, outscoring them 29-12 to blow this game wide open and roll to a convincing victory. Brazil and its trio of NBA centers in Varejao, Tiago Splitter, and Nene beat Serbia earlier in the group phase, they couldn’t do much in this encounter. Guard Milos Teodosic scored 23 points, and shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic added 12 for Serbia. Varejao had 12 for Brazil.

USA over LITHUANIA, 96-68
Klay Thompson helped the reigning world champions USA recover from a sluggish start to book a triumph over Lithuania in the semis and return to the championship game. The Baltic nation matched the USA move for move, play for play and most importantly score for score to keep things even at least at the beginning of the game. Adas Juskevicius had his best start of the tournament, standing shoulder to shoulder with Jonas Valanciunas in leading the team's cause. The Americans got their first lead of the game close to the midway point of the first quarter when Thompson - who entered the game for his Golden State Warriors teammate Stephen Curry - hit his team's first three-pointer for a 10-9 edge. Irving led all scorers with 18 points, 13 of them coming in the second half. Thompson and Harden added 16 each, while Curry finished with 13. Mindaugas Kuzminskas who had a grand total of 12 points in Lithuania's first seven games, shared top-scoring honors with Valanciunas as both finished with 15.

SERBIA over FRANCE, 90-85
Serbia will get the chance to write a new page in the storied history of Yugoslav basketball as it reached the Final of the World Cup by knocking off France.  Milos Teodosic poured in 24 points for Serbia, while Bogdan Bogdanovic added 13. The trio of Stefan Markovic, Nenad Krstic and Miroslav Raduljica each had 11, while Nemanja Bjelica finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and five assists as the Balkan powers reached their first final of FIBA's flagship event under the Serbian flag. France got 35 points from Nicolas Batum - 17 of them coming in the fourth quarter - and 13 from Boris Diaw as the European champions came back from an 18-point deficit to make a game of it down the stretch.

Third Place Game:
France recovered from a rough third quarter just in time to scrape past Lithuania for its best-ever result in FIBA's flagship event. Vincent Collet's team controlled the proceedings for a better part of the first half, but then dropped their guard in the third quarter before recovering in the final period to post the victory. Nicolas Batum was at the forefront of France's offense throughout the match and finished with a game-high 27 points. Jonas Valanciunas finished with 25 to go with nine rebounds for the losing side, while French big man Joffrey Lauvergne had 13 points and nine boards.

USA over SERBIA, 129-92
The United States shot their way to the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup title by hitting 15 three-pointers in a rout of Serbia in the Final to become the first repeat world champions since 2002. Kyrie Irving and James Harden combined to hit nine of 11 three-pointers and scored 26 and 23 points respectively to lead the Americans. Six other US players scored in double-figures, including DeMarcus Cousins, who had 11 points and nine rebounds. The USA, winners of the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey, claimed their fifth world crown, pulling them even with Yugoslavia for the most in history. Serbia secured its best placing under the Serbian flag as runners-up. Irving was rewarded for his impressive tournament and huge individual performance in the Final by receiving the Most Valuable Player award.

#Spain2014 was Kyrie Irving's coming out party.

Maybe not having the NBA’s top-tier stars was a good thing
No LBJ? No KD? No CP3? No Dwight Howard? No Tony Parker for France? No Manu for Argentina? No Turkoglu and Ilyasova for Turkey?

No problem.

The fine thing about not having all of the NBA’s top-tier stars in the FIBA World Cup is that we got to see other players, new stars if you will, emerge. Kyrie Irving and Kenneth Faried were golden for the Americans. Klay Thompson and Anthony Davis had their moments, too. Nicolas Batum and Rudy Gobert stepped up big time for the French. Facundo Campazzo and Marcos Mata had their moments for the Argentines. And as for the Turks? Well, Emir Proeldzic is one young guy we’ll all do well to remember.

Nicolas Batum was clutch awesome for France.

Has Team USA widened the gap again?
Here’s the thing – the Americans wiped the floor in #Spain2014 with the competition. There’s just no other way to describe their performance except to say it was sheer dominance. Coming in, we all knew that coach K’s crew was already the most athletic, but they also looked the hungriest out there. Most of these guys were kids who wanted to prove they not only belonged on the world stage, but owned it, too.

And they just did, whipping their foes by an average of 33 points. In contrast the 2012 Olympic Team, which featured LeBron, Melo, Paul, and KD, beat foes by 32.1 points per game, and 2010 World Championship team defeated their opponents by just 24.6 per outing.

In the London Olympics, Team USA had two games decided by 7 points or fewer, while in the 2010 World Championships in Turkey, the Americans had two games decided by 10 points or fewer (including a 70-68 squeaker over Brazil).

If we use these data as our primary indicators, it sure seems like coach K’s young ‘uns just widened the world basketball gap again.

New powers are rising.
Serbia and France won medals in the World Championships for the first time (Serbia was part of the greater Yugoslavian teams in the past, though). Senegal and Mexico qualified to the Top 16. Our very own Gilas Pilipinas gave some of its more ballyhooed Group B rivals more than they bargained for. Slovenia romped through its early games. Even teams like Ukraine and Finland showed a ton of promise. Despite the USA seemingly widening the gap between #1 and the rest of the world, it seems like there are certainly a lot of other countries gaining ground in world basketball. FIBA loves this, of course, as it means potentially more level parity across the board and fewer blowouts in future world-level jousts.

Slovenia turned a lot of heads in #Spain2014.

The 2019 FIBA World Cup should be even bigger.
With the next edition of the FIBA World Cup having a record-high 32 teams, going through a FIFA-style qualification system, and being hosted by a non-Euro country for the first time since 2006, things sure are shaping up to be bigger than ever.

More teams means more fans will tune in to World Cup-related developments and will bump up FIBA’s digital presence even more. This also means more merchandise can be marketed, and more sponsorship opportunities.

Of course, this also means there’s a lot more pressure on FIBA and the next host country (can you smell it, Manila?) to really deliver, but if this latest World Cup is anything to go by (along with the fact the FIBA World Cup will no longer be held in the same year as FIFA’s), then there’s nowhere to go but up for the biggest international basketball tournament in anybody’s calendar.

This is the reason I’m really hoping the Philippines gets hosting rights for 2019. We’ve shown the entire globe that we have some of the wildest, most rabid, basketball fans in the world. By 2019, we will already have sufficient infrastructure for the games (hopefully, however, better infrastructure for transportation and communication, too) and a plethora of world-class accommodations. We have a rock-solid national sports association for basketball, and we definitely won’t have any shortage of media mileage. It should be awesome. It should be a no-brainer. C’mon, FIBA. Let’s make it happen.


Who's up for a FIBA World Cup in the Philippines?

All images are from FIBA.

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