Turkey might have “12 Giant Men,” but in the FIBA World Championship gold medal game they were no match for the one and only Kevin Durant.
Durant was unstoppable, torching Turkey for 28 points thanks to seven clutch three-pointers whenever Team USA needed a big bucket on his way to being named tournament MVP and leading the Americans to a 81-64 gold medal win over the hosts.
Turkey geared its defense around slowing down Durant, yet he still consistently found seams in the defense, particularly early when the game was in doubt.
Durant scored 26 of his 28 points in the first 22:01, tallying just six points less than Turkey during this time and going for over half of America’s points in that stretch. His jumper is just so smooth and effortless and any time he had even a crack of daylight or a smaller defender on him he splashed another jumper home.
Durant helped the Americans open up an 18-point lead early in the second half, and the Turks never got back within single digits.
You can’t blame Hedo Turkoglu, the Suns forward who made the FIBA All-Tournament team, for this loss. He showed up in this one, going for a team-high 16 points on 5-for-8 shooting (4-for-4 behind the arc) to go with seven boards in 23 minutes. No other Turk reached double digits in scoring.
Turkoglu sparked the home team early, scoring eight straight points for his squad capped by back-to-back threes to put Turkey ahead 15-14. You could tell he wasn’t going to be rattled by this stage, but a minute later an apparent knee injury forced him to the bench and somewhat limited his effectiveness the rest of the contest.
Turkey seemed capable of sticking around with Team USA being essentially a one-man team offensively early, but Durant so superbly carried the Americans through the first half while his teammates helped smother Turkey defensively.
Lamar Odom chipped in with 15 and 11, including some clutch play in the fourth, and the Americans took home their first World Championship since 1994 and automatically qualified for the 2012 Olympics, which could be critical with the looming lockout and the possibility of pros not wanting to play in qualifying games next summer without a collective bargaining agreement in place.
The Turkish crowd saluted its heroes in the waning minutes of the game and both sides seemed genuinely proud of their accomplishments. Turkey earned its first medal at the FIBA World Championship, finishing with a silver after starting the year with a FIBA ranking of No. 18 (that will be going up right about now).
“We are so happy as a team,” Turkoglu told FanHouse. “Nobody expected us to come this far.”
The tournament as a whole was seen as a major positive, with FIBA Secretary General Patrick Baumann calling it ”the most successful FIBA World Championship ever.” According to Baumann about 1 billion people in nearly 200 countries tuned in for the action, exceeding the numbers of previous World Championships. Clearly other countries were more stoked about the action than American fans (three of the games produced the highest ratings of the year in Lithuania).
In all, it was a positive for many groups, most notably the two teams on the floor in the final game.
Kevin Durant established himself as a world superstar, scoring more than twice as many points as the next highest American (22.8 ppg, third highest in the tournament) and continuing his summer of goodwill that it seems will lead to an MVP NBA season. Team USA won a gold medal without any 2008 Olympians and thrashed the competition so thoroughly that anybody who picked against the Americans ought to be feeling pretty stupid right about now.
Team Turkey, meanwhile, brought much joy to its fans with a once-a-century kind of performance. The Turks dominated every bit as much as the Americans before the final game and engendered the kind of country camaraderie that makes sports so great.
Hedo Turkoglu struggled some with his shot throughout the event, but he was still at the center of Turkey’s stunning run, finishing his international career in almost perfect fashion by carrying a silver medal out of his home building in front of over 15,000 screaming fans just as he had dreamed.