Utah Jazz: FIBA World Cup roundup – Game 2 poses scare for Mitchell, Team USA

Donovan Mitchell of the US goes up for the ball during the first round Group E match between the USA and Turkey at the 2019 Basketball World Cup at the Oriental Sports Center in Shanghai on September 3, 2019. (Photo by Lintao Zhang / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read LINTAO ZHANG/AFP/Getty Images)
Donovan Mitchell of the US goes up for the ball during the first round Group E match between the USA and Turkey at the 2019 Basketball World Cup at the Oriental Sports Center in Shanghai on September 3, 2019. (Photo by Lintao Zhang / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read LINTAO ZHANG/AFP/Getty Images) /

Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell and his Team USA squad had their struggles against Turkey in their second game of FIBA play, but ultimately came out on top.

There’s been no shortage of doubt cast upon the 2019 rendition of Team USA competing in the FIBA Basketball World Cup. An unquestionably weaker squad than the United States typically fields is the one that finds itself in action, and they’ve been widely considered as vulnerable as the squad has ever been since NBA players have suited up internationally.

They certainly showed as much on Tuesday, as Team USA only barely managed to survive a close scrape against Turkey in their second game of FIBA Group Play. Although Turkey finds itself ranked as just the 17th best team in the world, it gave USA all it could handle in a wild contest.

Unlike the USA’s first bout against the Czech Republic, they actually got off to a pretty quick start that looked as if they might be able to pick things up where they left off and come away with a dominant performance. They were up after the first quarter and even extended the lead all the way to 15 in the second period, at which point they look poised to run away with the victory.

But things went downhill quickly from there. They took a meager five-point lead into halftime, then came out extremely flat-footed in the second half. So much so, that they instantly let Turkey back in the game. The entire second half was a closely contested affair, and Turkey managed to nab a two-point lead late that appeared to place Team USA in serious trouble.

But, after a Khris Middleton miss, Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell soared for an incredible game-saving offensive rebound, that was easily his brightest contribution in an otherwise difficult game. After collecting the board, he got the ball to teammate Jayson Tatum who fired up a three that missed badly, but fortunately he was fouled on the attempt, sending him to the line for three shots.

Had Tatum made all three, he could have iced the game right then and there considering there was but 0.1 seconds left in the game. But he missed the middle shot, tying the game and sending it into overtime.

In the extra period, it felt as if Turkey had all the momentum, and rightfully so. They had just outplayed Team USA for the entire second half. In overtime, Mitchell committed a dire mistake. In an attempt to go for an offensive rebound that had already been collected by Myles Turner, he grabbed onto the rim, pulling it down then popping it into the air. He did so simultaneously with Turner putting the ball back through the hoop, so it was called offensive goaltending and cost the US two points that would have put them ahead by one late in the game.

Instead, the US squad found themselves having to foul to force Turkey to the free throw line to extend the game. When they did so, Joe Harris, who was one of the better performers for the United States on the night, committed what was dubbed by FIBA rules as an ‘unsportsmanlike foul’ which meant Turkey got two free throws and the ball.

This meant they had a chance to go up three, then inbound yet again, get fouled and make two more foul shots to go up five with just nine seconds remaining. In other words, the victory was essentially one hundred percent in Turkey’s hands.

But fate smiled down on Team USA, as the recipient of Harris’ unsportsmanlike foul, Dogus Balbay, missed both his free throws. Shortly thereafter, Team USA fouled Cleveland Cavaliers forward Cedi Osman, who had an absolutely splendid game for his native Turkey. Unfortunately, for him, he too fell short, missing both attempts at the charity stripe. This allowed the USA one final chance with the deficit still at one instead of what could have been as many as five.

In response, Jayson Tatum dashed down the floor and dished the ball to Khris Middleton, who went up and was fouled on his attempt. Middleton then went to the line and drained both shots, putting the US up by one. Turkey got the ball back with just over two seconds to play and the Milwaukee Bucks’ Ersan Ilyasova had a decent look at a three, but he missed it, allowing Team USA to just barely escape by a score of 93-92.

The end result was as desired for the US squad, but it was an ugly way to get there. In the process, they showed that they very likely are as vulnerable as ever.

As far as what went wrong and why it turned out so, I have a few thoughts. First of all, and what will be much to the chagrin of Utah Jazz fans, I’m sure, Donovan Mitchell had a very forgettable game. Against the Czech Republic he was stupendous with excellent decision-making and efficient shooting. The opposite was the case versus Turkey, however.

Mitchell finished the game with just nine points on 3-of-12 shooting which included far too many three-point attempts – nine in all. For someone who hasn’t shot well from the perimeter in general this summer, it was an unwise approach to his game. He only had one turnover, but it was a crucial one down the stretch that nearly cost Team USA the game.

Donovan will have to be much, much better moving forward if the American squad is to have any hope of arising victorious at the end of the tournament. Throughout the contest, it was great to see Mitchell’s hustle, determination and passion – such was what led to his game-saving offensive rebound at the end of regulation – but often that exuberance led to recklessness.

As a leader on this Team USA squad, it is vital that Mitchell reels it in moving forward, ensuring that his energy is being channeled towards positive contributions rather than out-of-control play or spotty decisions.

Perhaps the real hero of the game was Khris Middleton who, aside from hitting the game-winning free throws, likely had the best outing of the night for Team USA. He went 5-of-9 from the field for a team-high 15 points. Joe Harris had some big moments off the bench as well and Myles Turner was key with 11 points and nine boards. Kemba Walker had a good scoring night with 14 points in all, but went just 5-of-14 for the game. Tatum likewise struggled with efficiency going 3-of-11.

In other words, Mitchell wasn’t alone in his poor shooting. Not by a long shot. As a whole, Team USA shot a dreadful 35 percent from the field. Some of that had to do with frequent hero ball and only one or two players touching the ball per possession. Team USA would do well to share the rock, move the ball and get into more of a team-centric rhythm on offense.

The other significant takeaway from this contest was that the Americans looked largely bothered by Turkey’s physicality. Far fewer fouls were called in the paint despite some considerable contact, and this appeared to leave the US team somewhat rattled.

Ideally, though, it will teach them a critical lesson that hopefully carries over to the NBA as well – rather than complain about a perceived missed call, they should shake it off and get back on D. Team USA was burned in transition a number of times, a few when their shooter remained in the backcourt begging for a foul.

There’s no question that FIBA play is more physical, and Team USA needs to adjust to that quickly if they hope to survive. They were outscored 38-20 in the paint, in part due to Turkey’s more assertive presence down low.

To that point, as I mentioned loosely already, it should be noted that Turkey’s NBA players were absolutely phenomenal. Each of Ilyasova, Osman and Philadelphia 76ers guard Furkan Korkmaz played tremendously, in many ways outplaying most of the members of Team USA. It was apparent from the start how badly Turkey wanted this victory (more so than the United States squad did, it appeared), and that nearly proved disastrous for Team USA.

The American squad, especially captain Donovan Mitchell, will need to simply shake off their iffy performance, though, and chalk it up as yet another learning experience moving forward. Unfortunately, their recent exhibition loss to Australia was also supposed to serve the same purpose. We’re not far removed from when the US team will be out of learning experience opportunities and they’ll simply have to perform to their potential or be eliminated altogether.

In brighter news for Utah Jazz fans, the other two FIBA players from their team had exceptional performances. Joe Ingles absolutely lit it up in Australia’s contest against Senegal, as he went off for a near triple-double with 17 points (on an incredible 6-of-8 shooting), 10 rebounds and nine assists. For the second straight game, Ingles was arguably the best Aussie player on the floor, though his teammate Patty Mills had a solid 22-point outing in the Boomers’ 81-68 win over Senegal.


Rudy Gobert and France put together an absolutely dominant performance as they decimated Jordan to the tune of a 103-64 victory. The Stifle Tower was a key contributor on both ends as he played suffocating defense and finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds on the evening while going 6-of-6 from the foul line.

Ingles and Gobert continue to be among the best players for their respective teams in FIBA competition. Mitchell was as well in the USA’s first contest, but faltered in Game 2. Ideally he can learn from it and follow in his Jazz teammates’ footsteps by righting the ship in the Americans’ next bout.

Next. Utah Jazz alumni: Joe Johnson, Al Jefferson take home the BIG3 Championship. dark

Next up for Team USA is Japan at 6:30 AM MT on Thursday. Gobert’s France team will take on the Dominican Republic at that same time and Ingles’ Australian squad will challenge Lithuania, the other undefeated squad in their group in what should be a tightly-contested battle, on Thursday at 5:30 AM MT.