Out of necessity, the first game was a feeling out process to say the least. Neither team shot well from the field, with the Americans registering a scant 33% field goal percentage in the first quarter. It would be the defensive speed and switching of the team that allowed them to remain close in throughout the first half. That defensive intensity led to a similarly low shooting percentage for Germany with the exception of the 3-ball. Tommy Böhme (long time teammate of Michael Paye at RSV Lahn-Dill in Wetzlar, Germany) contributed to a 56% 3-point performance in the half.
USA Head Coach, Ron Lykins, made various line-up changes throughout the first half to find the most optimal combination and a way to trigger more offense. The offensive struggles continued, but one of the strengths of this roster is the depth of mid-point classification players and the combinations of line-ups available to Coach Lykins. Coach Lykins said:
The second half was similar in the lack of efficiency, but Team USA did begin to change the tide. Some of the athletes had to step up in different ways. Matt Scott is typically known for blurring down the sideline en route to an uncontested layup. Transition opportunities were limited, and early outside looks didn’t fall, but he would tally 10 total assists in the game. When asked about today’s performance, the 5-time Paralympian said: “Champions always find a way to win, even if it’s not their day. We didn’t shoot the ball great or play our best brand of basketball, but we found a way to win.”
It would be Brian Bell and Josh Turek that would get USA over the hump and secure the victory. Brian Bell led all scorers in the game with 20 points, but 10 crucial points came in the fourth quarter. Bell said, “I take high pride representing my country and, in those moments, I think about making every shot count.” There was a stretch where he hit 3 clutch shots in a row and under duress. It could be said that these 10 points were some of the most pressure packed of the 3-time Paralympian’s career to give Team USA the start they needed to these Games.
Josh Turek entered the fourth quarter as Head Coach, Ron Lykins, was in a tactical exchange with German Head Coach, Nicolai Zeltinger. Coach Lykins was alternating offensive and defensive line-ups to maintain the US advantage. Zeltinger and his squad were executing a well-designed plan to preserve the clock at the end of the game. With a 1-point lead, Nico Dreimüller burned a quick foul on Josh Turek with 17 seconds on the game clock. Turek is known as an elite scorer even among the elite, so the Americans breathed a sigh of relief when he was sent to the line. Co-Captain, Steve Serio said: “I had no doubt that those shots were going in… that’s what Turek does.”
When asked about closing the door on the German comeback attempt, Josh Turek said: “I knew the coaches were going to call my number at the end of the game if it came down to free throws. I was mentally locked in and knew that if I made the shots, we win the game.” If you’re thinking easier said than done, you most certainly wouldn’t be the only one, but Josh Turek is known for his blue-collar work ethic.
Josh talked about the challenge of sustaining that diligence during the additional uncertain year owed to the pandemic. “The extra year was not easy for me. If that meant waking up at 5:00am to go to the gym and after work going back to lift and shoot, you do what you have to do.
Coach Lykins did a masterful job maximizing his depth in the crucial moments of the game and talked about the years of preparation. He said, “Everyone on the bench was (also) engaged and knew the situation. The group that we had on the court down the stretch knew the situation and knew what to do because of that preparation.” With this veteran line-up, the team has been in these competitions and knows the importance of moving on to the next opportunity. True to his form, Coach Lykins said: “There are a number of areas we can execute better, and we’ll need to when we play Iran and other teams later in the tournament.”
The USA Men tip off against Iran tomorrow at 5:00pm Japan Standard Time from Musashino Forest Sports Complex.