Column: World Cup on day one. As we expected?

Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The opening day of the 2014 FIBA World Cup lived up to its billing – as the USA showed the world that they aren’t as vulnerable as once thought and the Philippines announced their arrival to the world stage, even in defeat.

HOW THE TOURNAMENT FAVOURITES ARE FARING? 

USA

Before the tournament began, there were a lot of people labelling the USA as a vulnerable and easily beatable team. The superstars were all missing, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin and Russell Westbrook. But while Uncle Drew (Kyrie Irving) and James Harden were the leads in the class of 2014, a lot of people pointed out a big hole: USA’s lack of an inside presence. Anthony Davis, Kenneth Faried, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond and Mason Plumlee were chosen to alternate between the centre and power forward position, but if (when) the time came to possibly play Spain in the Final, might their inside prowess of the Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka be too much? Especially when Pau Gasol drops 33 points on opening night and Marc gets a business-like 15-point, 10 rebound double-double.

Well, after a few easy warm-ups, the USA hit the Bilbao floor on opening night and handed a 114-55 beat down to Finland where their defence and fast-break offence resulted in the Finns not being able to hit a single field goal in the second quarter, with just two free throws being hit. This resulted in the U.S. leading 60-18 at the half and the Wolfpack’s heroes being reduced to boys on a court against men.

The scary thing is that Finland is a solid side and will be a team that have a great chance of qualifying from the group. But if the USA is like this … there will be trouble. USA are favourites, guys. No doubt about it, especially after their opening day massacre.

Spain 

The hosts were expected to win easily against Iran on opening night and they didn’t disappoint. Spain eased to a 90-60 win with Pau Gasol coming good with a game-high 33 points.

No disrespect though to Iran, but Spain were not tested here, the Euro giants were mainly on cruise control throughout and apart from Hamed Haddadi and Mahdi Kamrani, Iran had no other scoring option. Spain’s tests at this early stage will come from their Eurobasket semi-final conquers France, Serbia and Brazil. No doubt though this team is the closest thing the USA will be to a basketball contest. If they both don’t contest the Final in Madrid, then this World Cup will have a surprise up its sleeve.

TOP PERFORMERS

Philippines 

Let’s be honest, we expected Croatia to beat the Philippines by 15 + points. Obviously, no-one told the FIBA Asia runners-up that?

But we’re glad no-one told them – because Group B’s curtain raiser was easily the game of the opening day – with Croatia edging it after a session of overtime. The basketball world though has witnessed how well organised and how well drilled the Philippines are.

The basketball world has also seen what determination really is. You want 100 percent hustle, you watch Marc Pringis play, the 6’4 power forward battled with the likes of Ante Tomic and Luka Zoric and with a limited skillset and post-game, he still managed to clock 10 points and 4 rebounds. Just a shame he didn’t get the result that no-one was expecting. They will be a challenge to Greece, Argentina, Puerto Rico and Senegal.

Pau Gasol 

Many believe that this will be Pau Gasol’s last tournament in a Spain jersey. He has a world championship gold from 2006, two Eurobasket gold medals and two Olympic silvers. He wants his last memories of international basketball to be him lifting the World Cup in his home country on September 14.

His statline of 33 points and 8 rebounds though against Iran was a good starting point.

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