Text and Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
United States team proclaimed winner of the FIBA Basketball World Cup Spain 2014 after beating Serbia 129-92 in a match in which Mike Kryzewski´s men confirmed once again what was a constant throughout the whole competition: their remarkable superiority over the rest of national squads.
And they did it against a Serbian lineup which directed by its coach Sasha Djordjevic made a great tournament, getting a rather praiseworthy silver medal and fighting to the point of exhaustion, though they couldn´t finally do anything to stop the American team, a real bulldozer of collective play (which would ultimately defat them with a difference of 37 points) based on a formidable defense with steady steals and intimidation inside the paint, an impressive athletic ability in each of its players enabling them to keep identical physical performance during the four quarters of every game, constant lethal fast breaks, very wise shooting selections (with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kyrie Irving as a trio of elite snipers) and a commendable strenuous effort on the court by all of its men, to which must be added the great performance in this final game of three players of the United States team: Kyrie Irving, the best dribbler and penetrator into basket NBA playmaker,
SERBIA STARTS THE FIRST QUARTER BARGING IN
The Serbian team tackles this final game with tons of illusion, since it wasn´t beforehand among the favourite squads for medals.
But the coach Sasha Djordjevic, a highly experienced man as a player (he was one of the best shooting guards in the history of European basketball) has created a highly competitive team in which together with the traditional stunning accuracy in the medium and long range shots and the natural gift for basketball that has always been sported by plavi players, a very good defense has been added.
Vast majority of Serbian millions of inhabitants are watching the match on TV and cheering up their national basketball team, while Serbian supporters make their presence felt in the stands of Madrid Sports Palace.
Though being a small country, basketball has always being a very important thing for its people, who feature deep knowledge on this sport and are great admirers of both American NBA and NCAA basketball and the legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski, so facing USA is a historical event for them.
Serbia has begun very tuned in, conducted by Milos Teodosic, who is masterfully directing his teammates, wisely distributing the play and doing some penetrations which surprise the American squad, while the plavi players are very accurate with their medium and long distance shots.
At 08:04 from the end of the first quarter, Stefan Markovic (whom Sasha Djorfjevic has placed on the court making him play as a 1 in order that Milos Teodosic can play as a shooting guard wearing out as less as possible) surpasses the defense of Kyrie Irving and sends a one hand pass to Miroslav Raduljica, who is alone under the United States basket and scores two points through a slam dunk, after an intelligent reading of the play by Milos Teodosic, who embeds between Stephen Curry and Anthony Davis inside the American zone, managing to divert the U.S center attention from the defense on Raduljica.
Anthony Davis, the best center of United States from the viewpoint of his scoring ability, class and playing quality (excellent his performance in this Spain 2014 FIBA basketball World Cup, setting up with Kenneth Faried the usual couple of tallest men in the U.S lineup and being highly effective in attack and defense alike), makes two personal fouls in the first two minutes of the game and Mike Krzyzewski decides to replace him by DeMarcus Cousins, a man featuring great strength, rebounding talent and intimidating power, because until now Serbia is holding a sway over the fight under both backboards. Coach K asssigns him a double mission: to rebound to the death in both baskets and go out to block Teodosic´s shots.
At 07:30 from the end of the first quarter, Teodosic does another of his brainwaves: being located on the right of the U.S three point line, he receives a pass from Markovic and feigns to try to shoot a 3 pointer. Kyrie Irving goes quickly to defend Teodosic and jumps over him, while Raduljica strives after blocking DeMarcus Cousins, who comes to help Irving if Teodosic decides a jumper instead of penetrating or assiting another Serbian player. The Serbian captain is forced to go back, because DeMarcus cousins (one of whose assignments ordered by Coach K is to defend the Serbian pick and roll far from the American basket) runs towards him crossing the three point line and trying to keep him by the court corner attempting to generate a 2 against 1 trap together with Irving. Milos Teodosic manages to drive up to the free throws line of United States zone, where Steve Curry and Kyrie Irving go for him. James Harden only can watch the play, because he has to defend Nikola Kalinic (located on the left of the U.S 3 point line) and Stefan Markovic (also placed behind that line, around three meters on the right), since if either of them receives a pass from Teodosic, he will comfortably throw a three pointer.
But Teodosic´s great talent under extreme situations enables him to see Bjelica (located approximately 1 meter in front of the left corner of the U.S 6,25 m line, free of defense, because the penetration of the Serbian player has put the United States defense a bit out of order and Kenneth Faried is defending Miroslav Raduljica under the hoop while DeMarcus Cousins comes back to his starting position of pure 5 under the backboard after going for Teodosic), whom he assists with a high pass corssing the U.S zone from left to right. Bjelica controls the ball and running parallel to the baseline rushes towards the United States basket, dribbling Kenneth Faried and doing a slam dunk over DeMarcus Cousins.
Serbia is dominating the score 8-5.
The individual technique and game vision of the Serbian team men is noteworthy and the constant location of Bjelica (a very big 2, 09 m shooting forward) in perimeter positions (above all front ones, after the 6,25 m line) is creating problems to the United States defense.
Sasha Djordjevic has thoroughly prepared the match, with a great mobility of his players, with the centers often going out of the American center to foster the penetrations into basket by Teodosic and Bogdanovic, Bjelica (2,09) often located behind the 6,25 m line to oblige the tallest men of the U.S lineup to go to defend him in the perimeter area and dribbling them driving towards American basket or easily throw a three pointer if an under 2 meters American guard (1) or shooting guard (2) comes for him and the steady option of screens for Bogdanovic or Teodosic, whose accuracy and speed of medium and long distance shooting along with their ability driving to basket are frightening weapons.
At 06: 38 from the end of the first quarter, Milos Teodosic is assited by Raduljica near the left area of the United States zone, surpasses the defense by Kyrie Irving and jumps scoring two points with a reverse layup.
Serbia goes on up in the score with a difference of seven points: 12-5.
TREMENDOUS REACTION OF UNITED STATES
But Mike Kryzewski, one of the best coaches in the whole history of this sport, is not only a genius but a highly experienced man accustomed to facing the most difficult contexts.
He knows that this is a key moment of the match, becuase Serbia is on a roll and scoring everything, so he orders his men to boost defense to the death, asking DeMarcus Cousins (2,11 m and 122 kg) to endeavor to his utmost in his mission of defending the attacking Serbian centers (Krstic and Raduljica) and simultaneously going out of the American zone trying to block the shots made by Teodosic, Bogdanovic and Bjelica, hampering their jumpers. At the same time, he orders Kyrie Irving to strike against the Serbian defense by means of his impresively swift accelerations and decelerations, feigns and reverse dribbles and begin shooting 3 pointers taking advantage of his awesome jumping ability. It has the aim of physically wearing out as much as feasible Teodosic, Bogdanovic and Markovic (who will have to go to defend him in the strating phase of their penetrations), open gaps in the plavi defense (because in the final stage of his drivings to basket, the Serbian centers will be bound to try to block him, because of the American playmaker great ability to do double pump layups) and reduce the distance in points with the Serbian team as soon as possible.
and in a dazzling jump he avoids the block shot by Bjelica and Milos Teodosic, doing a double pump layup on the right of the backboard. The spectators stand up on their seats and applaud this masterpiece.
The contest goes on and from now on there will be no quarter. Each ball is arduously fought. United States defense starts being truly stifling, a real steamroller which greatly crimps the Serbian shots, as well as neutralizing very much each possible line of pass.
But Serbia doesn´t surrender and its players keep on giving their all on the court, pushing themselves.
At 05:40 from the end of the first quarter, Raduljica scores two points under the United States hoop after a great assist by Milos Teodosic, while De Marcus Cousins makes a personal foul. The Serbian center cashes in the free throw, so the score now indicates 15-7 for Serbia.
and scores a spectacular 3 pointer; and the second one begins with a great drive to the U.S basket by Milos Teodosic, who surpasses Stephen Curry through speed with a masterly spin dribble and sends a long pass between Kenneth Faried and DeMarcus Cousins which arrives at Bjelica, who rushes to the American basket with great resolve. Irving strives after stealing the ball from him, but arrives a bit late and the Serbian forward jumps towards the U.S hoop, but at the last moment, DeMarcus Cousins intimidation makes him assist Krstic, who is very near and tries to score two points, but once again, the intense defense exerted by De Marcus Cousins, who leaps to block the shot, makes the Serbian player fail, and the American center, a real colossus under ther backboards, grabs the defensive rebound after several jumps and uphill fight, passing the ball to Kyrie Irving, who crosses the whole court and arrives again at the right area of the Serbian zone, once more attacking Milos Teodosic, whose defense is good, but Irving makes two brutal pace changes in full sprint along with a double pump layup impossible to stop and scores two points handling the ball with his two hands in an incredible way.
United States is increasingly turning the game around and acquires an advantage of seven points: 15-22.
The thousands of spectators in the stands of the Madrid Sports Palace burst into applause. A display of extraordinary collective basketball like this had never been seen in this arena and this last work of art by Kyrie Irving begets an unutterable thrill.
Legendary maestro Mike Krzyzewski´s team is a machine of doing basketball, with a really top-notch attack/defense balance, but they don´t relax at any moment and keep on defending to the death.
The second quarter begins with Sasha Djordjevic putting Bjelica on Kyrie Irving, trying to defend the outside shooting of the United States point guard that have catapulted the American reaction during the second half of the first quarter. But it doesn´t work. It´s impossible to stop Irving, who in some specific stages is also unsuccessfully defended by Bogdan Bogdanovic (more often guarding Stephen Curry).
At 05:58 from the second quarter, Anthony Davis makes his third personal foul when trying to stop a penetration on the left towards American basket by Milos Teodosic, which makes DeMarcus Cousins enter again on the court. United States defense goes on being tremendously strong, with utter involvement of every player, which greatly hampers the Serbian attacking flow.
On the other hand, DeMarcus Cousins is steadily going out towards perimeter area to help Rudy Gay in his defense on Bjelica, which is little by little wearing out the big Serbian forward, who every time receives the ball, has to fight to his limit to be able to shoot or dribble. Nevertheless, Bjelica manages to perform some praiseworthy plays, among them an impressive three pointer at 03:24 from the end of the second quarter, made from behind the United States 3 point line, overcoming the defense by Rudy Gay and helped by a previous pick and roll done for him by his teammate Vladimir Stimac.
Notwithstanding, the staunch defense on Bjelica makes that Bogdan Bogdanovic has to mostly take the Serbian scoring labour in this phase of the game.
After the halftime, the first basket of the third quarter is made by Bjelica, who after grabbing a defensive rebound passes the ball to Markovic, who starts the transition and sends the ball to Teodosic, placed on the right (behind the free throw line), and he passes it to Bjelica, located once again behind the United States 6,25 m line front area. The Serbian forward fakes the 3 pointer and dribbles DeMarcus Cousins (who had gone out of his zone to defend Bjelica, trying to block his possible outside shot), also overcoming the complementary defense by Stephen Curry (who attempts to steal him the ball during his first bounce) and scores two points doing a slam dunk with his two hands on the American hoop.
But in spite of its great advantage in the score, United States doesn´t let their guard down. Coach K has imparted very clear instructions to his players inside the locker during the halftime. They must carry on defending to the utmost and avoid any kind of easy shots of the Serbian team, whether two points ones or 3 pointers. Mike Krzyzewski´s vast experience and significant respect for the rival team makes that the American team doesn´t relax at all, because he perfectly knows the huge accuracy in long distance shots featured by the Serbian players, along with their top-drawer individual technique.
However, a few seconds later, Kyrie Irving crosses the court at full speed, surprsing the Serbian defense and scoring two points through a layup. United States is proving to be unstoppable.
At 07:49 from the end of the third quarter, James Harden throw a three pointer from the right corner next to the Serbian 6,25 m line. The ball touches the hoop and DeMarcus DeCousins slams it dunk with one hand, scoring two points. The Sacramento Kings center is revealing himself as Mike Krzyzewsky in this final games.
At 07:12 from the end of the third quarter, Raduljica sends a pass to Bjelica, who located once more behimd the front area of the U.S 6,25 line area, cocks his arm at great speed and nails a 3 pointer from seven meters overcoming Kenneth Faried´s defense. The class and elegance of the Serbian big forward are one of the attractions of this final match.
At 06:25 from the end of the third quarter. Coach K gives rest to DeMarcus Cousins, making Anthony Davis enter again.
At 08:24 from the ened of the third quarter, James Harden receives a pass from DeMarcus DeCousins (who has just made him a pick and roll) slightly behind the right area of the Serbian 6,25 m line, surpasses Kalinic´s defense and rushes to rival basket, overcoming Raduljica´s defense with his jump and subsequently making a formidable stretching of his left arm, scoring two points with a layup.
Sasha Djordjevic imparting instructions to his players. The Serbian coach lived the game with enormous intensity.
GREAT EFFICIENCY AND ACCURACY IN THE TIMING OF THE ROTATIONS MADE BY MIKE KRZYZEWSKI
United States coach Mike Krzyzewski confirmed once more his mastery when it came to rotating his men, with a fairly wise selection of the tempo in the changes, giving rest to the players needing it it and introducing other ones (DeMar DeRozan, Mason Plumlee, Andre Dummond and Rudy Gay) who usually aren´t within the starting lineup but whose performance is optimized to the utmost by Coach K, who likewise makes them feel valued, an integral part of the team and highly appreciated.
It greatly allows to keep an identical level of defensive stamina and collective spirit play which gives rise to a steadfastness in the attacking flow, without dropping the level.
The embrace protracts.The great Sasha Djordjevic (FIBA World Champion in Greece 1998 and European Champion in Italy 1991, Greece 1995 and Spain 1997) keeps on cheering Stefan Markovic as much as he can.
and finally passes his hand on his neck affectionately when the Serbian guard and shooting guard begins going to his plae in the bench.
Everything is already decided and twelve seconds before, Sasha Djordjevic has changed Bogdan Bogdanovic, after two points scored in alley-hoop by Nikola Kalinic assisted by Stefan Jovic.
The game ends with a final score 122-92 for United States, which wins through a very wide margin of 37 points of difference.
The United States team players hug one another being elated after proclaiming winners of the FIBA Basketball World Cup Spain 2014, with an extraordinary basketball in which great emphasis has been placed on collective play, with six men scoring an average of more than ten points per game during the two weeks of competition: Stephen Curry (10,7), Kyrie Irving (12,1), Anthony Davis (12,3), Kenneth Faried (12,4), Klay Thompson (12,7) and James Harden (14,2).
Under the direction of Mike Krzyzewski the United States team becomes the first one in the History of Basketball to win in four consecutive world-class tournaments (Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, Turkey 2010 FIBA World Cup, London 2012 Olympic Games and FIBA World Cup Spain 2014). But the greatness and humanity of this already legendary coach, one of the most important ones in the history of the American basketball and who was a pupil of Bobby Knight, is boundless, and he quickly goes to comfort and sincerely congratulate Milos Teodosic and Bogdan Bogdanovic, perfectly knowing that they are two extraordinary players who have fought on the court to their utmost.
The Spanish King Phillip VI gives James Harden, captain of the United States team, the James naismith Trophy as FIBA Basketball World Cup Spain 2014 winners. The U.S squad, featuring a 24 year old average, wins this way its fifth consecutive FIBA basketball world cup, with an average of 33 points of difference over its rivals during the tournament.