BILBAO, Spain — They figured it would be simple, that they would just beat up on Turkey like they did Finland a night earlier.
Instead, the Americans were the ones on the ropes for nearly three quarters.
"I guess we felt like last night’s game was pretty easy and tonight was going to be the same way, but Turkey came out and they gave us their punch from the beginning," forward James Harden said. "We took it and we were sluggish. That second half we played a lot better."
Kenneth Faried scored 22 points, Anthony Davis all of his 19 in the second half, and the U.S. rebounded from a rare deficit at halftime to beat Turkey 98-77 on Sunday in the Basketball World Cup.
A night after crushing Finland by 59 in its biggest rout ever while using NBA players in the former world championship, the Americans couldn’t take control against Turkey until early in the fourth quarter after compiling a 17-1 run.
"I think we didn’t come ready to play in the first half and we can’t afford to do that if we want to win a gold medal," Davis said. "So we’ve got to come out ready to play no matter who we’re playing against."
The Americans trailed 40-35 at halftime and Turkey led by six early in the third before the Americans could finally get the game into the quicker tempo they prefer and pull away to win the rematch of the 2010 gold-medal game in Istanbul.
But it was a much tougher one than expected after the Americans hammered Finland 114-55 while Turkey was being outplayed for most of its opener by New Zealand before pulling out the victory.
Harden added 14 points for the U.S. and Kyrie Irving added 13, playing extended minutes in the second half while struggling Derrick Rose sat.
It was tied at 59 with 3:10 left in the third before the Americans closed the period with a 7-1 burst to lead 66-60 after Faried’s basket. The U.S. then ran off 10 in a row to open the fourth and open a 76-60 cushion.
The Americans haven’t lost since the semifinals of the 2006 world championship and outside of their victories over Spain in the last two Olympic gold-medal games, haven’t been in danger much since then.
But they needed a long time to start looking like the team that is so considered the tournament favourite by so many.
"Before the game we talked about we trying to keep the tempo low, in fact slow down the game and we did it very well first half. I think actually three quarters we did it very well," Turkey’s Ender Arslan said. "But after, physically United States team is great, they played 40 minutes … so we get a little bit tired after third quarter and they still played at the same level."
The U.S. beat Turkey 81-64 four years ago to win gold, and though the Turks have eight players remaining from that team, they no longer have their best player, Hedo Turkoglu, or fellow NBA veteran Ersan Ilyasova.
Cenk Akyol led Turkey with 12 points.
The Americans had to break from their pregame warmups to retake the official team picture that every team took Saturday before their opening games, because they were still wearing sweats instead of their uniforms.
They soon had bigger problems than a fashion faux pas.
It was 16-all after one, and Turkey controlled the tempo in the second quarter, getting to the foul line as the Americans showed moments of frustration with the pace and some calls that went against them. Baris Hersek and Emir Preldzic made consecutive 3-pointers late in the half to give Turkey a 38-32 lead.
Unable to force the turnovers or missed shots to get their transition game going, the Americans looked ordinary in the halfcourt. Davis, who scored 17 points in the opener and had been the Americans’ best player this summer, was scoreless with one rebound in the half, playing just 10 1/2 minutes while picking up two fouls.
"I tried to come out in the second half and just be a different player, just be the player I’m used to being," he said.
Rose showed his timing still isn’t back after a nearly two-year absence, missing both shots, turning it over twice and not getting an assist in the first half. He didn’t get back into the game until the U.S. had opened the big fourth-quarter lead.
The Americans are off Monday before continuing pool play Tuesday against winless New Zealand.