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Irving, Plumlee flourish in Spain as Team USA advances to knockout round

Team USA dominated group play at the FIBA World Cup, winning its five games by an average of 33.2 points. Former Duke standouts Mason Plumlee and Kyrie Irving are on the team, and here's a look at how the former Blue Devils have performed for Duke and Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski, as well as other highlights from the group stage:

Although Team USA largely breezed through the group stage, it was caught off guard a few times during competition.

The first came Sunday when the team comprised of NBA stars came out sluggish against Turkey and found itself trailing by five points against an inferior opponent.

But after a fiery halftime speech from Krzyzewski, the national team outscored the Turkish squad by 26 points in the second half thanks to steady play from Irving and post players Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis.

Irving scored eight of his 13 points in the second half and dished out five assists in Team USA's second win of the competition.

The second time Team USA was caught off guard in its first week of competition was Tuesday against New Zealand, when a squad featuring no NBA players decided to start the game with a pre-game war dance known as the Wild Haka.

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Aside from being caught off guard a few times, as the team has cruised, Irving has asserted itself as a steady, calming presence.

The Cavalier point guard is currently Team USA’s leader in minutes played and has shown an ability to steadily dictate the flow of the game, looking equally at ease creating his own shots in half-court sets and setting up easy transition buckets.

Irving's most-needed contribution has likely come on the defensive end, where he is averaging more than 2 steals a game to go along with his 9.8 points and 3.8 assists per contest. Irving has played so well that he has almost managed to score without even trying, as seen in this hilarious errant attempt at an alley-oop pass that found nothing but net.

Although the 22-year old took a hard fall in Thursday's 24-point win against Ukraine and appeared like he might be hurt, he is expected to return when the knockout stages begin Saturday and said on twitter that he is fine.

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Duke’s other product on the floor for Team USA, Plumlee, has found himself on the opposite end of the box score from Irving, averaging a team-low 6.4 minutes per game, deferring playing time to the more developed Davis and Faried.

Despite his limited opportunities, the Plumdog Millionaire has made the most out of the little time he has been on court, scoring six points in 12 minutes against Finland and five in seven minutes against the Dominican Republic.

By managing to provide quick and efficient buckets off the bench, Plumlee has proven that he will be a solid option for the upcoming knockout round where scoring in the paint will be crucial against post-packing teams like Spain.

The 7-footer also managed to have some fun during a break in the action Thursday, showing off some soccer skills that he probably didn't acquire during his time in Durham.

Team USA opens up the knockout round on Saturday against Mexico at 10:00 a.m. If the team advances as expected, the gold-medal game will be Sept. 14.

The Blue Zone will have another update following the conclusion of the competition.


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