The nightmare scenario nearly played out for USA Basketball on Tuesday morning in China. The Americans took on a Turkey squad that isn’t nearly as talented, but has plenty of experience playing international ball and was not intimidated taking on a squad of NBA players. But thanks in part to some horrible free throw shooting by Turkey, the Americans survived in overtime, 93-92.
Things look dire in the game’s waning moments, with the United States down by two points with 12.3 seconds left. Cedi Osman of the Cleveland Cavaliers hoisted up an awkward jumper that did not go in. The United States used a small-ball group to close out the game — Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Harris, Khris Middleton, Jayson Tatum — and could not keep Ersan Ilyasova off the glass, leading to Ilyasova converting one of his patented tip-ins for two.
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) September 3, 2019
The Americans had the ball, though, and were able to get a great look for Middleton. He missed, but Mitchell and Walker were able to team up to play hero and save possession for the Americans. Mitchell was trapped, but found Tatum at the top of the key.
Tatum missed his attempt at a triple, but got fouled with 0.1 seconds left on the clock.
After splitting his first two attempts at the line, Tatum made the third, which led to the United States forcing overtime. In the extra frame Turkey pulled ahead by as many as five points, but the U.S. was able to rally back and go up by two points. Osman, however, looked primed to play hero, converting an and-one to put Turkey ahead, 92-91.
Then, disaster struck for the Americans. The ball was inbounded to Myles Turner, who was immediately trapped and turned the ball over.
I say it all the time, do not go at Doğuş Balbay pic.twitter.com/rQapzs6Cxn
— Tony Xypteras (@TonyXypteras) September 3, 2019
However, the window stayed open for the USA. Turkey missed four(!) consecutive free throws to keep it to one, and after the final missed attempt from the charity stripe, Middleton was fouled in transition. He stepped to the line and cooly knocked down both. Ilyasova got a look from deep as time expired, but it was not meant to be, and the United States survived.
Khris Middleton's free throws lift the United States over Turkey in the group stage of the FIBA Basketball World Cup! pic.twitter.com/eU5sAHlUwC
— ESPN (@espn) September 3, 2019
Walker led the way for the United States, putting up a 14-point, 7-assist, 6-rebound, 3-steal performance. Middleton’s 15 points topped USA’s scorers, and Harris was the unlikely savior, going for 11 points and five rebounds, while Tatum (11 points, 11 boards) and Turner (11 points, nine rebounds) came up big, too. Ilyasova may have been the best player on the floor — his 23 points and 14 rebounds were both game-highs — but it wasn’t enough to pull off the upset.
We’ll have to see if this is more of a growing experience for the Americans or a sign of things to come against, say, Serbia or Spain, but for now, we’ll bet they’re happy to have picked up a hard-fought win.