Earplugs. I’ve looked the FIBA rules up and down and haven’t spotted anything saying they cannot be worn during play. Considering the circumstances, Coach Krzyzewski should probably hand out 12 pair tonight. Be it baseball, football or basketball, I’ve never felt my ears ring quite like they did when Kerem Tünceri streaked to the hoop for the most wide-open lay-up he’s seen in his career, sending his country to the finals in the process. There were sirens, horns, high-pitched whistles and crying babies that, for health purposes, probably never should have been allowed in to begin with. At one point—make that three or four points—there was a scuffle that broke out immediately behind me between some angry Turks and one or two seemingly tame Serbian fans. Still, the Serb’s presence bothered the home crowd and they busted through the language barrier to let him know. Eventually, the security guards had to make a people barrier around the older Serbian gentleman, 8-men deep. It was quite entertaining and I must admit, I was rooting for some action. I spent 20% of the fourth quarter with my neck whipped around waiting for someone to get punched out. It never quite happened, but boy it would’ve if Novica Velickovic’s last-second oop hadn’t run into Semih Erden’s hand with :0.5 on the clock. I have no doubt that the Sinan Erdem Dome would’ve gone into full-blown riot mode, and we all might’ve been trampled.
When Turkey takes the floor against the United States tonight, it will be a sight to hear. You read that correctly. If you were one of the 15,000 who sat there as the chaos reverberated in the rafters, you know exactly what I mean.If you weren’t, tune in tonight and turn up the volume. Then turn it up some more. And make your baby cry and have your buddy whistle directly into left ear while banging a rain stick on the floor.
Good thing I’m not on the radio today or anything. All that ruckus could get distracting.
With the obvious exception of Lithuanians and Serbs, everyone was pulling for this final pairing. On one hand you’ve got the basketball factory led by one of the world’s top three basketball players—after Nikoloz Tskitishvili and Jerome James—and on the other it’s the home team with the home crowd in a city of 16 million that’s suddenly getting hyped for their country’s second sport. Team USA brings the tempo, Turkey specializes in getting teams out of their rhythm. Fire and ice. Going against Russia was a great way to prepare for what Bogdan Tanjevic is going to throw out, but Turkey’s slightly longer and a step quicker which can make life difficult for an American team that has struggled in the face of disciplined, zone defense.
“All we need to do is find someone in the middle and play within the gaps,” says Eric Gordon, and he’s exactly right, but finding a gap between four seven foot wingspans is not an easy task. Yesterday’s game against Lithuania gave us a peek of what USA’s capable of if they swing the ball quickly and work inside-out, but they’ll need to sustain that selflessness for 40 minutes to beat the Turks.
As for Turkey’s offensive attack, they make their money behind the three-point line but still finish when they get it inside. Their balance makes it tough to focus on one person or one area of the court, because five guys are always looking to make the next pass. If there comes a time when Coach K needs to shut down one person, I’d use Andre Iguodala on Ersan Ilyasova. Ersan has taken a couple games off offensively, netting 6 and 9 in two of his last three after averaging 17 over the first four contests. Objective #1 for Iguodala should be keeping Ilyasova out of his rhythm, and AI’s up to the task a day after limiting Linas Kleiza to 4 points on 1/11 shooting.
Iggy’s taken full advantage of the FIBA rules, as he explained in a press conference. “In the NBA it’s hard to stop somebody. There’s not too much hand checking so I try to slow guys down. There’s no such thing as stopping them,” Iguodala said after the game. “But out here they let you play a little more defense so it kind of suits me, and it’s to my advantage a little bit more. There are players that are great on offense, all across the world, and you’re not going to stop all of them. But you can make it tough for them, maybe wear them down and start making them think about, ‘OK, what can I do to get this guy off me?'”
And if AI isn’t on Ilyasova then Turkoglu will have to figure out how to get this guy off me. He’s got the right idea, though, when it comes to mucking up the USA’s attack. “We have to minimize mistakes because they are a good team on the open court. We don’t want to give them any opportunities like easy baskets and we will try to keep the game close,” said Hedo after their victory over Serbia.
They’ve clearly got their heads in the right place and with leaders like Kerem Tünceri and Omer Anan, I wouldn’t count on them to stray too far from the plan. In their eight wins so far, they’ve made it clear they value the rock, only turning it over 11.3 times per game, third best out of the 24 teams that showed up on day one.
And who can stop Kevin Durant? Nobody can. His 38 points yesterday were the most in USA Basketball’s history, and he’s not the type who cools off overnight. What Tanjevic’s Turks need to do is figure out how to force him into awkward situations and tough looks. He’ll hit some, sure, but it’s harder to get into a rhythm with a hand in your face as you fade away or shoot in traffic. If the USA wants this one, it will be on Chauncey Billups, Eric Gordon and Rudy Gay to command attention by knocking down open shots. Derrick Rose, who only saw 12 minutes yesterday in a zone-infested game, will need to figure out a way to hurt Turkey from deep if he wants those driving lanes to open back up.
The only certainty tonight is that the atmosphere will blow us all away, and win or lose, basketball in Turkey has taken a gigantic leap forward. That’s good for everyone.
Prediction: USA 86-77 Turkey.