Commentary

Say what? Team USA two wins from title

Updated: September 9, 2010, 5:49 PM ET
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

ISTANBUL -- The inclination for a player in foul trouble is to hold back, even just a little. Not so for Andre Iguodala, who played with so much energy and passion right when the Americans needed it that one of the Russian players actually thought he was swearing at him -- in Russian.

"He say in Russian a bad word. I don't know how he know this. I won't even translate it. It's bad," said Russian forward Andrey Vorontsevich, who got yelled at by Iguodala after being a little too physical with Lamar Odom.

"All I said was, 'watch it, watch it,'" Iguodala said, bewildered. "I don't speak any Russian."

Apparently (according to bilingual Russian journalist Vladimir Gomelsky of NTV+, the Russian all-sports cable network), if you say, "watch it, watch it" fast enough, it can be misconstrued as the Russian euphemism for a female canine. That's what was lost in translation on the court, but there was no misinterpreting what Iguodala brought to the equation after the Americans fell behind 35-30 midway through the second quarter of their quarterfinal at the FIBA World Championship on Thursday night.

After picking up two early fouls, Iguodala came back into the game when the Americans needed a spark from someone other than Kevin Durant (33 points). He muscled in for a key offensive rebound off a missed 3-pointer by Eric Gordon and made two free throws after he was fouled, then scored inside off a pass from Gordon as the U.S. team sped it up in transition off a missed 3-pointer.

When it was over, what had been a 5-point deficit had been erased by a 12-0 run, and Team USA went on to advance to the semifinals of the world championship with an 89-79 victory over Russia on the 38th anniversary of the Soviet Union's controversial gold-medal victory over the United States at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

"They were playing good defense and we weren't hitting shots, and they seemed to be in control of the game," coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "What I worried about was that they were playing so well, we were going to put too much pressure on ourselves. The main thing I told them was just relax, it's a long game.

[+] EnlargeAndre Iguodala
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillAndre Iguodala's work in the paint helped spark Team USA to victory.

"And then with Andre, I put him in a position against their zone more under the bucket so he could get some offensive rebounds for us, and he did a good job."

Iguodala grabbed three offensive rebounds, and Odom had five to help the Americans to a 10-7 edge in second-chance points despite being outrebounded overall by a 45-37 margin.

Combined with their 20-2 edge in points off turnovers, a 22-2 advantage in fast-break points and Durant's 11-for-19 shooting, the Americans did enough to get past the first tough opponent they had played in 10 days since their two-point victory over Brazil in preliminary-round play.

"The only thing we can be happy with is we covered the spread, I think," said Russian coach David Blatt, the American/Israeli dual citizen who coached his last meaningful game wearing the red and white colors of the country that formed the heartland of America's No. 1 enemy during the Cold War.

Blatt didn't endear himself to the American team or the American public with his comments earlier this week that he felt the Soviet Union had won the infamous 1972 gold-medal game fair and square. And though that subject provided an interesting plot line heading into this game, it had nothing to do with what transpired on the court as the Americans were initially confounded by Russia's matchup zone and had no answer for 7-foot-1 center Timofey Mozgov, who hit his first four shots before getting into foul trouble of his own.

The 12-0 run capped by Iguodala's four points steadied the Americans, and Russell Westbrook was the catalyst in the third quarter when the U.S team started to steadily pull away.

Westbrook poked the ball away from Russia's Sergei Bykov and broke ahead of the field, and Odom recovered the loose ball and fed Westbrook with a long outlet pass -- one of several the Americans executed over the course of the game -- for a breakaway dunk that gave Team USA its first double-digit lead, 58-47.

Westbrook hit a 3-pointer off a nifty sequence of three quick passes to make it 61-50, then came up with another steal and breakaway dunk -- this one two-handed -- for a 13-point lead. A 70-foot pass from Billups to Odom made it a 15-point game, and Russia never mounted a serious threat the rest of the way.

"I think that one of the things I most appreciate is what's happened with U.S. basketball under the guidance of Coach K and his people is they have recognized and realized how to play the European game, and at the same time still maintain the elements and the advantages that the Americans players, the American game have to offer them," Blatt said.

So the Americans move on to the toughest and more pressure-packed part of this tournament, the semifinals Saturday against Lithuania -- the team that held them to just seven first-quarter points in their first exhibition game in Europe last month, back when Rajon Rondo was the starting point guard. And then possibly into the gold-medal game just one day later against the winner of the Serbia-Turkey semifinal.

And to steal a quote from Iguodala: Watch it. Watch it.

Because this version of Team USA could be on the verge of doing something a squad with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Dwight Howard couldn't do four years ago, something no American team has done since 1994: Walk away from this tournament able to call itself world champion -- something that translates into every language spoken in every country around the globe.