Team USA pulls away from Ukraine 95-71, sweeps Group C

By Zach Harper | NBA writer

Rudy Gay (Getty)
Team USA's Rudy Gay drives to the basket on Thursday vs. Ukraine. (Getty)

A quick look at Team USA's 95-71 win over Ukraine in the fifth and final group play game of the FIBA World Cup for the United States.

What happened: Another slow start and another big win for Team USA. This seems to be the pattern for USA Basketball, although this time it looked like the slow start was from rotation and experimentation as much as it had to do with just not being energized to start the game. Mike Krzyzewski went to Derrick Rose, Rudy Gay, Klay Thompson, DeMar DeRozan, and DeMarcus Cousins early in the game, throwing them all out there together in the first quarter. It allowed that lineup to get extended minutes with each other, something they'll have to work on for elimination rounds and eventually if they need to play against Spain as a unit.

Coach K has been pretty generous with trying different lineups and combinations in this game, and made sure he found some combination of players to eventually pull ahead of Ukraine. After taking a 2-0 lead on free throws from Kyrie Irving, the USA wouldn't lead again until Stephen Curry hit a 3-pointer with 4:01 left in the second quarter to give USA a three-point lead. Ukraine led after the first quarter and either led or was tied for a good chunk of the second quarter.

Eventually, the defense and energy showed up, they forced empty possessions for Ukraine, and the talent won out. Team USA went on a 19-5 run to close the first half and lead by 12. The Ukraine played a virtually even third quarter with the US before succumbing to the inevitable in the fourth.

There was also a bit of a scary moment late in the game when Irving hit the floor hard and walked off the court to the locker room.

Three stars

1. Stephen Curry gets rolling from deep. Curry had been struggling with his shot in the first four games of the tournament. He entered the fifth game making just 35.3 percent of his field goals and 36.3 percent of his 3-pointers. That's not very Curry-like on a basketball court. All of that changed against Ukraine with Curry scoring 14 points on six shots in 19 minutes of action. He hit 3-of-4 from downtown and went 5-of-5 from the free throw line (he hasn't missed yet in the tournament). Team USA will need Curry to help stretch the floor and be that trailing threat in transition. Seeing him getting hot or progressing back up to his own historical mean is a great sign.

2. James Harden hunted for less contact and was more effective. Harden is a hunter now. He's always been a player that draws a lot of contact and gets to the free throw line, but since he joined the Houston Rockets, it almost seems like he'd rather get contact and draw a foul than get the quick score. There's a value to it because it gets the defense in foul trouble when it works, but it also can ruin the tempo and pace of your team's game if it's not going smoothly. Harden appeared to hunt for less contact against Ukraine and he seemed to have a more evident impact. He had 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field and attempted just five free throws in 24 minutes. Harden also forced a couple of turnovers and dished out five assists.

3. Klay Thompson had a phenomenal showing off the bench. The game and energy started to turn around with Thompson checking into the game early on. His on-ball defense was superb and he moved the ball really well. You won't see an incredible stat line in his box score, but his seven points, five rebounds, and four assists in 23 minutes felt pretty important. He's mostly there to stretch the floor, so if you can get him making the extra pass and setting teammates up on that end of the floor, it opens up the possibilities for this offense to expand even more. That's a scary/fun thought.

Next up: Team USA faces Mexico on Saturday. Mexico went 2-3 in Group D play and finished as the fourth team in the group.

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