Team USA basketball vs. Turkey takeaways: Americans escape with thrilling 93-92 OT win to advance to second round

It took everything they had and more than a little bit of luck, but Team USA escaped their battle with Turkey with a 93-92 overtime victory. The Americans needed two free throws from Jayson Tatum just to get the game to overtime, and they trailed by as many as five points once they got there. But Turkey missed four consecutive free throws down the stretch that could have won them the game. Khris Middleton punished them for that, making two free throws on the other end with just 2.1 seconds remaining to clinch the victory for Team USA. 

Middleton, who has struggled throughout Team USA's schedule so far, was their best player in this game. He led the way with 15 points, but more importantly, the Americans outscored Turkey by 17 points when he was on the floor. He was the only American player with a plus-minus in double digits on the positive end, and his all-around play saved Team USA from its first ever loss to Turkey in World Cup play. 

With two games down, the Americans have only a single game left in the first group stage of the World Cup. That will be against Japan, their weakest opponent of the tournament. The Japanese team is 0-2 so far with a point differential of -32. They are the 48th-ranked team in the world by FIBA, so Team USA should have no trouble dispatching them on Thursday. 

Assuming they take care of business against Japan, they will advance to the second group stage as the winner of Group E. Joining them in that group will be the winner of Turkey's matchup against the Czech Republic along with the two top teams from Group F. While Brazil would not appear to pose much of a threat to Team USA coming out of that group, the Americans will likely face their greatest test of the tournament to that point against Giannis Antetokounmpo and Greece. 

Team USA will likely be favored in that game, but their near-defeat at the hands of Turkey revealed some cracks. This is not the invulnerable American juggernaut that we are used to seeing on the international stage. This team needs to step up big time if it plans to compete with the best teams that the rest of the world has to offer. Here are the biggest takeaways from Team USA's comeback win: 

Just when the rotation was settling...

Team USA used the same starting lineup in consecutive games for the first time Tuesday, but just as things were beginning to settle, they were thrown a curveball when Jayson Tatum went down with a sprained ankle in overtime. Now, not only is a starting slot open, but 31 minutes of playing time from today's game will need to be filled. 

The early candidates for filling it? Middleton and Joe Harris. They combined for 26 points on four-of-seven shooting from three-point range. Gregg Popovich has placed a clear emphasis on spacing with his lineups thus far, as Team USA played over eight minutes in this game without a true center on the floor. Expect one of them to fill in for Tatum in the starting lineup, and both to take on more minutes as long as Tatum is out. 

Inside the arc

Team USA made four more three-pointers than Turkey and 11 more free throws. They won the rebound battle, the turnover battle and the assist battle. So how did they nearly lose the game? The Americans were dreadful inside of the arc. 

Team USA shot 35 percent on two-pointers in this game. Middleton was the only American player to make more than half of his two-point attempts, and he was three-of-five. Turkey thrived on those same shots. Ersan Ilyasova shot eight-of-14 on two's, and he led all scorers with 23 points. Turkey made 24 shots inside of the arc in this game to Team USA's 13. That was nearly the difference. 

So far, Team USA's ball-handlers haven't been able to attack the basket consistently despite the terrific spacing Popovich's lineup choices have afforded them. Their big men have lived mostly behind the arc and haven't used their size to score easy buckets. Emphasizing shooting is the right approach to winning internationally, but Popovich may be taking things too far here. Team USA needs to strike a better balance moving forward. 

Crashing the boards

Here is how close games are won: Team USA's non-centers managed to secure 39 rebounds. Tatum grabbed 11 by himself. Kemba Walker had six and Harris had five. Mitchell had four, and he batted out the offensive rebound Walker secured that eventually led to Tatum's game-tying free throws at the end of regulation. Guards and wings posting numbers like that is the sign of a strong rebounding team. Team USA boxed out well all game and it created opportunities for their perimeter players to come down with those boards. Turkey got 14 rebounds from Ilyasova, but no other player on their team had more than four. 

Dealing with pressure

It wasn't exactly the key to their game-plan, but Turkey experimented with full-court pressure in this game with strong results. Typically, teams don't try to press against NBA guards because elite ball-handlers tend to shred such defenses. But Walker and Mitchell struggled against Turkey's pressure in this one. In all likelihood, it was just a wrinkle that they weren't prepared for. Players of their caliber don't see full-court pressure very often. But the success Turkey had will likely embolden other teams to try it during the tournament, and Team USA needs to have a plan if they do. 

Sam Quinn joined CBS sports as a basketball writer in 2019. Prior to that, he wrote for 247Sports and Bleacher Report. He is a New York native and NYU graduate who also has roots in Florida and California. Full Bio

Our Latest Stories