ISTANBUL-- Nobody has attached a nifty slogan to it such as "Win or Go Home.'' But the knockout round in the World Championship is like the playoffs in the NBA.
And we've all seen how Chauncey Billups transforms when the playoffs start.
The guard was the Finals MVP when Detroit won the NBA crown in 2004 and was in line to claim the award again until the Pistons blew a nine-point second half lead in Game 7 of the 2005 Finals against San Antonio.
Billups' career regular-season scoring average: 15.4.
His postseason career scoring average: 17.8.
So it was no surprise Billups, now with Denver, was at his best when Team USA began play in the knockout round Monday at the Sinan Erdem Dome. Billups scored a team-high 19 points, shooting 5-of-7 from three-point range, as the Americans walloped Angola 121-66.
Billups' showing came after he had shot just 4-of-19 on three-pointers in the five games in group play. But Billups went into a playoff-like routine before Team USA began its quest to win four straight games to claim a gold medal in the Worlds for the first time since 1994.
"I have a routine that I do in the regular season, and I have a routine that I do in the playoffs,'' said Billups, whose Americans advanced to face Russia, a 78-56 winner over New Zealand, in a quarterfinal Thursday. "And that was pretty much my playoff routine, getting extra shots up, knowing that I'm going to have to be a little better.''
Billups got his work in when Team USA, after playing five games in six days and not having a practice, finally got in a pair of valuable workout sessions Saturday and Sunday. He stayed after practice to shoot.
While Billups wouldn't admit it, he apparently wasn't overly pleased with his performance in group play. Denver's starting point guard during the regular season, Billups, with the Americans loaded at the point, had been moved to starting shooting guard.
Somewhere along the way, the shooting part of his position got misplaced. Billups shot just 40 percent overall during the first five games while every one of his teammates shot 45.5 percent or better, with the other 11 combining to shoot 53.7 percent.
"Chauncey had mentioned that he needed to step up as the leader of this team,'' said Team USA big man Kevin Love, who called Billups' performance against Angola "great.''
He did. Billups shot 4-of-6 from three-point range for 16 points as the Americans took an overwhelming 65-38 halftime lead. After drilling another three-pointer while playing the first six minutes of the third quarter, his day was done.
True, it was a weak foe. But it still was easily the best Worlds outing so far by the Americans, who committed just five turnovers after some shaky ballhandling in earlier outings.
Billups wasn't the only American to have a great shooting outing. Guard Eric Gordon shot 5-of-6 from beyond the arc and had 17 points, as did forwards Kevin Durant and Rudy Gay. Guard Derrick Rose, who had been just 2-of-7 from three-point range in the first five games, was 3-of-4 Monday as Team USA overall went 18-of-38.
"It's going to be very important,'' Gordon said, in reference to Team USA shooting so well in the knockout round. "We're not realistically very known for it but we've been hitting shots through the World Championship.''
The Americans actually have been a bit uneven during the tournament. They entered Saturday having gone 45-of-117 (38.5 percent) on three-pointers in the Worlds. But in their only game that was close, a 70-68 Aug. 30 win over Brazil, they went 6-of-17, including just 1-of-7 by Billups.
But it's the playoffs for Billups. It also is for center Lamar Odom, who has won two straight title rings with the Lakers and had nine points and eight rebounds in 16 minutes Monday.
"It starts with Chauncey and Lamar,'' said Team USA assistant Nate McMillan. "They know that they're the veterans on this team. They're going to lead this young team. I thought that they set the tone right from the start in practice (Sunday).''
Billups, 33, and Odom, 30, are by far the team's two oldest players. Billups, who is called "O.G.'' (presumably "original gangster"), by some of the young players, was named team captain before the Worlds.
Billups has embraced his leadership role. He's being looked at to take charge in a matter similar to how veteran point guard Jason Kidd, who since has retired from international competition, did with the 2008 Olympic gold-medal team.
The only difference is Kidd never shot. The Americans need the shooting a guy nicknamed "Mr. Big Shot'' can provide in addition to coveting his leadership.
"That's what I feel like I am here to do,'' Billups said. "I just try to guide these guys and be a difference maker, and not only talk about it but get out there and play and do it and be about it.''
In playing close to a flawless game, Billups shot 5-of-7 overall, with all of his attempts three-pointers. He had four assists and not a single turnover in 19 minutes.
The Americans, who bolted to an early 29-9 lead, had just one turnover in the second half. They had just two through the third quarter, when they led 91-56. Three came during fourth-quarter garbage time, when it's understandable some focus would be lost.
"With all the conversation about our performance in the first five games, the three tough games and then how we were down for two, we said we needed some practice time,'' USA Basketball chairman Jerry Coalngelo said of what needed to take place after the Americans were sluggish in the final two games of group play against hapless Iran and Tunisia. "We got some practice time.
"The most impressive thing for me was not just the way we shot the ball, but we had one turnover in the first half and 17 assists. In a game where you score 121 points and you only have five turnovers, that was pretty outstanding. So it's what the doctor ordered.''
The prescription for Team USA was for steady floor play and timely shooting. It's what Billups has been doing for years in the playoffs.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter@christomasson