Defense Leads USA to 69-53 Victory Against Greece
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In its first game of second-round action, the U.S. (4-0) defense starred in a 69-53 win against Greece (2-2) in the 2019 FIBA World Cup on Saturday night at Shenzhen Bay Sports Center in Shenzhen, China.
The USA held Greece to 31.8 percent shooting from the field (21-66 FGs) and 2019 NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks) to just 15 points.
A win versus Brazil (3-1) +) in the USA’s last second-round game on Sept. 9 (8:30 a.m. EDT ESPN+) would clinch the USA’s spot in the quarterfinals on Sept. 11.
“We played a very experienced team, really well coached, and one that was really physical and executes really well,” said Gregg Popovich (USA and San Antonio Spurs head coach). “So, it was a good test for us and it helped us get better. And that’s our goal, to try to get better in every one of these games.
“The defense is ahead of the offense, for sure, but that’s expected with 12 guys who’ve never played with each other before,” Popovich added. “It’s pretty easy to figure out. Each day that we have, we work on our execution to get better and better, and these coaches will learn what’s best for this group of guys.”
Kemba Walker (Boston Celtics) had 15 points and six assists; Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz), playing on his birthday, finished with 10 points, five rebounds and three assists; and Harrison Barnes (Sacramento Kings) and Derrick White (San Antonio Spurs) each finished with nine points.
The USA outrebounded Greece 50-40, and Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics) was the USA’s leading rebounder with nine boards to go with his eight points, while Myles Turner (Indiana Pacers) recorded eight points and seven boards.
“It was a very competitive game,” Walker said. “Each individual on that team - so much respect for those guys. But, you know, we played well, and we had a great game plan, and it was a good win.”
The first quarter saw three tied scores and three lead changes. The USA led 19-13 with 46.2 seconds left in the period, but Greece scored twice to end the quarter trailing 19-17 at the first break.
The USA gained some distance in the second quarter, in part by limiting Greece to 3-of-18 from the field (.167) and Giannis Antetokounmpo to just two points in the period.
Offensively, the USA in the second quarter took advantage of Greece entering the foul bonus early in the period and shot 8-of-9 from the free throw line. Turner helped the USA with six points in the second quarter, and the USA outscored Greece 19-8 in the period to lead 38-25 at halftime.
Greece scored the first five points of the third quarter to make it 38-30 at 8:17, but the USA responded and, helped by White scoring the USA’s final seven points, outscored Greece 16-7 from that point on to lead 54-37 with one quarter remaining.
Greece twice cut the gap to 11 points in the fourth quarter and outscored the USA 16-15 in the period, but it was not enough to overcome the USA’s advantage, which at the end of the game was 16 points, 69-53.
“Not too bad,” Mitchell said. “First time ever playing on my birthday. It’s awesome – to be able to get a win like this from all around play. We came in ready. We put a lot of pressure on them. Obviously, there were times when we made a few mistakes, but we bounced right back and got stops. We didn’t shoot it too great, but that’s where the defense that Pop (Popovich) has been talking about takes care of it. We got to be able to stay locked in and continue doing this throughout the rest of the tournament, not get too happy with just this one win.”
Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics) did not play due to a sprained left ankle.
The USA’s World Cup win streak now is at 23 games, and the U.S. has won 57 consecutive games in FIBA competitions dating back to the semifinals of the 2006 World Cup, when the USA lost to Greece.
The top two teams from each of the four second round groups earn a berth into the quarterfinals on Sept. 10 or 11.
In the USA’s potential quarterfinal crossover group, France (4-0) and Australia (4-0) have secured their spots in the quarterfinals and will play on Sept. 9 to determine the No. 1 and No. 2 seed.
In medal second-round Groups I and J, already through to the Sept. 10 quarterfinals are Argentina (4-0), Poland (4-0), Serbia (4-0) and Spain (4-0). The matchups between Poland versus Argentina and Spain against Serbia on Sept. 8 will determine which teams will be the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds out of each group.
The USA’s assistant coaches are Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce and Villanova University head coach Jay Wright.