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It was really iffy until the bitter end, but somehow and someway, Khris Middleton saved the day for Team USA.
Middleton knocked down two free throws with 2.1 seconds in overtime, lifting the U.S. to a 93-92 win over Turkey in the FIBA World Cup in China on Tuesday.
But it really wasn’t over until Ersan Ilyasova — Middleton’s teammate with the Milwaukee Bucks last season — missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Speaking of Turkey, it was the best of times and worst of times for forward Cedi Osman. He scored a three-point play the old-fashioned way with 50 seconds to go in OT, giving Turkey the lead. The crowd in Shanghai followed with chants of “MVP!”
But Osman missed two free throws (and Turkey missed four overall in the final nine seconds) that could’ve secured the upset.
After Osman’s misses, U.S. wing Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics) passed to a streaking Middleton, who got fouled with time running out. Tatum rolled his ankle on the play, but appears to be OK.
Anyway, this was the slimmest margin of victory for Team USA in World Cup play since a one-point win over Australia in 1990. That’s when the U.S. was still using college players and everyone else was using pros.
But the rest of the world has more than caught up in that time, and now the U.S. pros and coach Gregg Popovich are clinging to basketball life. And this win, frankly, was a basketball miracle.
“It was a heck of a game,” Popovich said. “As we all know, it was anybody’s game. We will accept the win, but it was anybody’s to win. The team that we played tonight again showed its experience and the improvement we have to make execution-wise. We’re not there yet.
“We’re still trying to get better at that. But, playing a fine team like that gives us another good example of how we can be when everybody knows what they’re supposed to be doing on the court. So, I give them a lot of praise for what I saw.”
Middleton finished with a team-high 15 points. Tatum struggled at times but could be credited with hitting a critical pair of free throws of his own — with 0.1 seconds left in regulation to send the game into OT.
Team USA was just 35 percent from the floor, but was able to win the game at the line (78 percent). Meanwhile, Turkey was just 61 percent on free throws. That ain’t gonna get it done at this level.
Ilyasova led Turkey with 23 points.
Team USA improved to 2-0 and sits atop Group E, while Turkey fell to 1-1 and now must be the Czech Republic to avoid elimination.
Kemba Walker (Celtics) added 14 points for Team USA, and Tatum, Joe Harris (Brooklyn Nets) and Myles Turner (Indiana Pacers) each scored 11. Tatum also collected 11 rebounds.
Osman finished with 15 points and four assists, but was just 4-of-15 shooting.
“I think it’s going to give us confidence,” Middleton said. “Guys made big plays down the stretch, as far as the dirty extra plays, grabbing a rebound, getting a steal, a box out , whatever. Coming up with the ball and making a play down the end. I think that definitely gives us confidence knowing that we didn’t play up to our expectations to some point.”
Also in Group E action Tuesday, Czech Republic topped Japan 89-76.