Following their quarter-finals match at the Mall of Asia Arena, two critical phrases resounded throughout the post-game interviews of both players and coaches: “unlucky,” a word that summarized Italy’s plight, and “anger,” the emotion powering the USA’s recovery.
“They didn’t deserve to face the United States, considering my players had topped the group,” coach Gianmarco Pozzecco said of Italy’s sad tie against the tough USA team. You need some luck, and we did everything perfectly in our group to finish first.” Nicolo Melli commented similarly, emphasizing the unsettling foreboding shared by Italy’s players and coaching staff.
History acted as a warning tale for them. Facing a committed USA side fresh off a setback in a significant event has yet to result in positive results. While there were exceptions, like the USA’s back-to-back quarter-final and classification defeats to Argentina and Serbia in the 2019 quarter-finals and classification games or their 2002 losses to Argentina and FR Yugoslavia, the general reaction following a loss was nothing short of scary. The 2020 Olympics demonstrated this tendency when, after losing their initial match to France, the United States rebounded with a 54-point victory over Iran in the next game, reestablishing their supremacy.
Even during their worst Olympic performance in 2004, when the USA suffered three defeats, they rallied smoothly after each setback, eventually finishing third on the podium. Statistics supported this trend: facing an irritated USA squad after a loss was terrifying.
“We played with a little more anger,” Tyrese Haliburton said, expressing what everyone in Manila thought. The loss sincerely saddened us, and we didn’t want to go through it again.” The United States’ goal was not only to defeat Italy but also to send a message to the rest of the world that their loss to Lithuania was an anomaly they would not repeat.
“That fear factor of playing the United States is not there anymore,” Haliburton remarked, emphasizing the shift in mindset.
Paolo Banchero linked Italy’s stunning triumph to the humiliating loss against Lithuania, admitting, “We gave them too many easy opportunities.” Our toughness and defensive pressure were absent, which resulted in Italy’s 110-point score, which was unacceptable to us. As a result, we were driven to better our performance.” Both Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson underlined the importance of “setting the tone” with a solid start, a departure from their prior games in Manila.
The squad changed its routine, inserting Josh Hart into the starting lineup and sending Brandon Ingram to the bench. In addition, they came for warm-ups 24 minutes before tip-off, rather than the typical 18 minutes. “Our main focus was our energy and how we started the game,” Brunson said. We set the tone for the entire game, and I’m happy with our answer. We need to be ready for the next round.”
Coach Steve Kerr usually discouraged his players from playing with negative emotions, but Haliburton’s fury evolved into a competitive drive, eventually becoming a good feeling. “Joy and competitiveness go hand in hand,” Kerr said. Competing at that level of intensity and enthusiasm spreads and makes the game more pleasant. It’s not about who gets the points or who gets the numbers; it’s about the team, and that’s when the game is at its best and most enjoyable.”
Italy, without a question, was on the wrong side of history. Following Lithuania’s defeat, they received the brunt of the United States’ displeasure. The resurrected USA juggernaut is now aiming for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 crown, which would be a new addition to their storied collection. Coach Kerr would need clarification on the emotions around the triumph. Anger may be a gift at times.